Semiquantitative Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) polymerase chain reaction for the determination of patients at risk for EBV-induced lymphoproliferative disease after stem cell transplantation

Kenneth G. Lucas, Robert L. Burton, Sarah E. Zimmerman, Jinghong Wang, Kenneth G. Cornetta, Kent A. Robertson, Chao H. Lee, David J. Emanuel

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195 Scopus citations


Epstein-Barr virus-induced lymphoproliferative disease (EBV-LPD) is a serious and potentially fatal complication after allogeneic stem cell transplantation (SCT). To evaluate levels of EBV DNA in SCT patients, a semiquantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay was developed. DNA was extracted from peripheral blood leukocytes and diluted, and PCR was performed by using a primer set specific for a well-conserved sequence of the internal repeat 1 region of the EBV genome. Forty-one SCT patients were screened with this method. Thirty-seven patients received allogeneic transplants, of which 18 were T-cell-depleted marrow. Four additional patients received autologous SCT, one of which was T-cell depleted. The mean time of follow-up by EBV PCR was 147 days (range, 47 to 328 days) posttransplant. The range of EBV copies/μg DNA from normal EBV sero-positive donors was 40 to 4,000. Seven patients had ≤40,000 copies of EBV DNA/μg DNA, all of whom were recipients of T-cell-depleted SCT. Five of the seven patients with elevated levels of EBV DNA developed EBV-LPD. Four of these five patients with EBV-LPD had elevated levels of EBV DNA from 1 to 8 weeks before diagnosis. Two patients with EBV-LPD had normal levels of EBV DNA, and two patients with ≤40,000 copies EBV/μg DNA did not develop EBV-LPD. In one patient, clinical resolution of disease correlated with a decrease in EBV DNA and an increase in the level of EBV-specific cytotoxic T-cell precursors. These data indicate that the measurement of EBV viral load with semiquantitative PCR is useful in detecting EBV-LPD in high-risk patients before the onset of clinical symptoms. Because not all patients with elevated levels of EBV DNA develop EBV-LPD, semiquantitative PCR results cannot substitute for clinical, radiographic, and pathological confirmation of this diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3654-3661
Number of pages8
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 1998


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Immunology
  • Hematology
  • Cell Biology

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