Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center researchers have identified two genes (PIAS1 and IRF8) that are responsible for governing the replication of the Epstein-Barr virus, an infection that drives the growth of several types of cancer. The discovery could lead to the development of novel therapies for virus-associated diseases including stomach cancer and lymphomas. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is one of the most common viral infections in humans – approximately 95% of adults carry the virus. EBV infections contribute to nearly 200,000 new cases of cancer and more than 140,000 deaths worldwide per year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. EBV-associated cancers include nasopharyngeal (a cancer at the back of the nose and throat), subtypes of stomach cancer, Burkitt's lymphoma, and Hodgkin's lymphoma. The life cycle of EBV is divided into latent and lytic phases, where in the latent phase the virus is dormant and in the lytic phase the virus is actively replicating in cells. Renfeng Li, PhD, member of the Cancer Molecular Genetics research program at Massey, conducted a study, published in the December 19, 2017 issue of Cell Reports, which determined that the gene PIAS1 is a crucial factor in preventing EBV replication. This is because EBV specifically targets cellular machinery in infected cells to eliminate PIAS1 in order to copy itself efficiently.
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