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Epstein-Barr virus-coded BHRF1 protein, a viral homologue of Bcl-2, protects human B cells from programmed cell death.

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  • Research Article
  • Biology


Epstein-Barr virus, a human herpesvirus that persists within the B-lymphoid system, can enhance the survival potential of latently infected B cells in vitro through up-regulation of the cellular survival protein Bcl-2. The possibility that an analogous effect is operative in lytically infected cells was suggested by the observation of distant sequence homology between an Epstein-Barr virus-coded early lytic cycle protein, BHRF1, and Bcl-2. Here we show by gene transfer that BHRF1 resembles Bcl-2 both in its subcellular localization and in its capacity to enhance B-cell survival. Thus confocal microscopic analysis of cells acutely cotransfected with BHRF1 and Bcl-2 expression vectors revealed substantial colocalization of the two proteins in the cytoplasm. In subsequent experiments, stable BHRF1 gene transfectants of Burkitt lymphoma cells paralleled Bcl-2 transfectants in their enhanced survival under conditions that induce cell death by apoptosis. Despite their limited sequence conservation, therefore, the two proteins appear to be functionally homologous. We suggest that BHRF1 provides an alternative, Bcl-2-independent, means of enhancing B-cell survival that may operate during the virus lytic cycle.

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