Washington: Scientists at the Duke Cancer Institute have decoded secrets of a very common virus that can cause cancer.
About 90 percent of people are infected at some time in their lives with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), usually with no ill effects.
But individuals with compromised immune systems, such as people with organ transplants or HIV infection, have a greater risk of cancer occurring because of this virus.
Now, scientists have discovered a pathway that infected cells use to root out EBV infections, a finding that has implications for understanding the human response to cancer-causing viruses in general.
"Using cell culture studies, we have uncovered a major pathway that the infected host cell activates to prevent an oncogenic virus from causing cancer," said senior author Micah Luftig, Assistant Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.
"We proposed that the cell was sensing that the virus is trying to take over. When this oncogenic stress response is activated, it keeps the virus in check, and now we know why," Luftig said.
The Luftig group also learned how the Epstein-Barr virus overcomes the cell``s response.
Luftig and his team, including lead authors Pavel Nikitin and Chris Yan, found two enzymes, called kinases, which were critical in mediating this oncogenic stress response and preventing unchecked B-cell cell growth, called immortalization.
When the scientists blocked the ATM and Chk2 kinases, unchecked growth resulted in 10 times more infected cells.
The study appeared in the Dec. 15 online issue of Cell Host and Microbe.