Epstein-Barr-Like Virus Infects and May Cause Cancer in Dogs

More than 90 percent of humans have antibodies to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Best known for causing mononucleosis, or "the kissing disease," the virus has also been implicated in more serious conditions, including Hodgkin's, non-Hodgkin's, and Burkitt's lymphomas. Yet little is known about exactly how EBV triggers these diseases. Now a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and Penn's Perelman School of Medicine has the first evidence that an Epstein-Barr-like virus can infect and may also be responsible for causing lymphomas in man's best friend. The findings suggest that domestic dogs possess a similar biology to humans with respect to EBV infection. That could allow scientists to study dogs to help uncover the mechanisms by which EBV leads to cancer in certain people. "There are no large-animal spontaneous models of EBV infection and virus-associated disease, and most studies investigating viral disease are performed in non-human primates, which are very expensive," said Dr. Nicola Mason, senior author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine and pathobiology at Penn Vet. "Discovering that dogs can get infected with this virus like people do may provide us with a long-sought-after model for EBV-associated disease." Dr. Mason's team at Penn Vet included Drs. Shih-Hung Huang, Philip Kozak, Jessica Kim, George Habineza-Ndikuyeze, Charles Meade, Anita Gaurnier-Hausser, and Reema Patel. The team worked closely with Dr. Erle Robertson, professor of microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine. Their work was published online on March 8, 2012 in the journal Virology. In humans, the Epstein-Barr virus infects B-cells. After an acute phase of infection, of which many people are not even aware, the virus goes into a latent phase.
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