To identify the role of T cells in chronic active Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, EBV and cytokine gene expression was quantified by use of real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) among 6 patients who fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for chronic active EBV infection. Four of these patients showed clonal expansion of EBV-infected T cells. Quantitative PCR for EBV DNA in peripheral blood of patients with symptomatic chronic active EBV infection showed higher copy numbers of virus (mean, 1.45 × 105 copies/mL) than were seen in blood from patients with infectious mononucleosis (3.08 × 103 copies/mL) or with EBV-associated hemophagocytosis (2.95 × 104 copies/mL). Fractionated CD3+ HLA-DR+ cells from patients with chronic active EBV infection contained higher copy numbers than did CD3+ HLA-DR- cells. Quantitative PCR for cytokines revealed that interferon-γ, interleukin (IL)-2, IL-10, and transforming growth factor-β genes were expressed at higher levels in HLA-DR+ than in HLA-DR- T cells. These results suggest that activated T cells in chronic active EBV infection expressed high levels of EBV DNA and both Th1 and Th2 cytokines. EBV-infected T cells may contribute to the unbalanced cytokine profiles of chronic mononucleosis.
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