More than 95% of the global adult population is infected with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Primary infection occurs when EBV infects a B cell of the oral cavity, and while infection is asymptomatic for immune-competent hosts, EBV can drive B-cell lymphoma development in immune-suppressed individuals who are infected with HIV or undergoing organ transplant. As a result, understanding how EBV establishes a latent infection and how this contributes to lymphomagenesis is critical for identifying potential therapeutic targets. In an in vitro model of EBV-mediated transformation, our lab has recently found that the viral nuclear protein EBNA3A mediates two temporally distinct survival strategies at the mitochondria. While uninfected B cells depend on the anti-apoptotic BCL-2 protein for survival, EBNA3A upregulates MCL-1 in early-infection and BFL-1 in late-infection. Specifically, EBNA3A promotes MCL-1 accumulation at the mitochondria and BFL-1 transcription in the nucleus. Without EBNA3A, EBV-infected B cells fail to upregulate MCL-1 and BFL-1 activity and are sensitive to the chemotherapeutic ABT-737, which induces apoptosis by inhibiting the anti-apoptotic proteins BCL-2, BCL-XL, and BCL-W. Therefore, the purpose of this proposal is to determine the mechanism by which EBNA3A regulates MCL-1 and BFL-1 in EBV-infected tonsillar B-cell survival. We have also observed changes in anti-apoptotic dependency in maturing B cells from human tonsillar tissue, in which BCL2-dependent nave B cells become MCL1-dependent when undergoing the germinal center reaction. Thus, my overall hypothesis is that EBV infection mimics B cell maturation to promote survival and that shifts in anti-apoptotic dependency are important for establishing a long-lived latent infection.
In Aim 1, I will define the role of EBNA3A in the expression of BAG3 and USP9X in regulating MCL-1 accumulation at the mitochondria and resistance to ABT-737.
In Aim 2, I will elucidate the mechanism by which EBNA3A cooperates with RelA in regulating chromatin architecture to promote BFL-1 transcription. Completion of this study will enhance our understanding of how EBNA3A regulates apoptosis over the course of EBV infection and provide critical information for identifying new therapeutic strategies for EBV-associated lymphomas and elimination of latently-infected B cells.

Public Health Relevance

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a highly prevalent pathogen that manipulates apoptosis to establish latency in immune-competent hosts and to ensure tumor survival and growth in immune-compromised individuals. Therefore, there is a vital need for identifying the molecular mechanisms by which EBV promotes the survival of infected tonsillar B cells of the oral cavity. Completion of this study will enhance our understanding of the role of viral co-transcriptional factor EBNA3A in regulating apoptosis and lay the foundation for identifying potential targets in treating EBV-associated malignancies.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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NIDR Special Grants Review Committee (DSR)
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Frieden, Leslie A
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Duke University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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