Contribution of viral recombinants to the study of the immune response against the Epstein-Barr virus

Henri Jacques Delecluse, Regina Feederle, Uta Behrends, Josef Mautner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Over the past two decades, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) mutants have become valuable tools for the analysis of viral functions. Several experimental strategies are currently used to generate recombinant mutant genomes that carry alterations in one or several viral genes. The probably most versatile approach utilizes bacterial artificial chromosomes (BAC) carrying parts or the whole EBV genome, which permits extensive genetic manipulations in Escherichia coli cells. The 'mini-EBVs', for example, which contain roughly half of the wild type viral information, efficiently transform primary B cells and have been used as gene vectors for foreign antigens. After expression in lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs), these antigens are efficiently presented on MHC molecules and recognized by antigen-specific T cells. These vectors, however, cannot undergo lytic replication and require a helper cell line for efficient replication and DNA packaging. Further experimental systems include the complete viral genome cloned onto a BAC. These mutants can typically be complemented by expression plasmids, some of which are expressed on EBV-derived vectors and can be propagated without requirement of a helper cell line. Over the last years, these viral recombinants have been utilized increasingly to analyse different aspects of the immune response against EBV. Immunological applications are manifold and steadily growing and include crude screening of T cell clones for their specificity towards latent versus lytic antigens, or more detailed analyses in which the exact specificity of T cells is determined using EBV mutants that lack a single viral antigen. Other applications include detailed analysis of protein domains important for immune recognition, e.g. Gly-Ala repeats in the EBV nuclear antigen 1 (EBNA1) protein, expansion of T cell clones directed against virion structures using virus-like particles and phenotypic analysis of virus mutants defective in infection. Future developments might include the genetic identification and characterization of viral proteins involved in the modulation of the immune response and, in particular, immune evasion. Recombinant viral strains are already being used experimentally for the expansion of T cells in vitro prior to in vivo cellular therapy and have been proposed as potential prophylactic vaccines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-415
Number of pages7
JournalSeminars in Cancer Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2008


  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Genetic analysis
  • Immune response
  • T cells


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