Distribution and phenotype of Epstein-Barr virus-infected cells in human pharyngeal tonsils

S. David Hudnall, Yimin Ge, Longxing Wei, Ning Ping Yang, Hui Quin Wang, Tiansheng Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Although Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is often found in human tonsils, it remains to be precisely determined in what cells and microenvironment the virus is present. Although generally regarded as a B lymphotropic virus, EBV is associated with non-B-cell tumors, for example, NK/T-cell lymphoma, carcinoma, and leiomyosarcoma. To provide a basis for understanding the origin and biology of EBV-infected non-B cells, the immunophenotype of all EBV-infected cells in reactive human tonsils was determined by subjecting tonsil sections to dual/triple EBER in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry with monoclonal antibodies to T cells (CD3, CD4, CD8, CCR3), B cells (CD20), plasma cells (CD138), natural killer (NK) cells (PEN5), and epithelial cells (cytokeratin), as well as frozen section immunostaining with antibodies to EBV latent proteins EBNA1, EBNA2, LMP1, and EBV early protein BZLF1. Most tonsils contained nearly equal numbers of EBNA1- and LMP1-positive cells (latency program) while only a few contained EBNA2-positive cells (growth program). More than 1000 EBER-positive cells from six tonsils were detected in the interfollicular zone (59%), tonsillar crypts (26%), and follicles (15%). Most (82%) EBER-positive cells are CD20-positive B cells, 7% are CD3-positive T cells, and 11% are cells of indeterminate lineage, often with plasmacytoid morphology. However, no EBER-positive plasma cells were identified. Rare EBER-positive NK cells and EBER/BZLF1-positive epithelial cells were identified. The direct demonstration of EBV within rare T cells, NK cells, and epithelial cells in reactive human tonsils provide a basis for further understanding of the origin of EBV-associated tumors of non-B-cell type.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-527
Number of pages9
JournalModern Pathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2005


  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In situ hybridization
  • Lymphocytes
  • Lymphoid tissue
  • Tonsil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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