Pediatric allograft recipients are at increased risk for Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-associated illnesses. The early identification and diagnosis of EBV-associated disorders is critical because disease progression can often be curtailed by modification of immunosuppression. We have previously shown that detection of EBV-specific sequences in the circulation by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) correlated well with the clinical symptoms of EBV infection. The purpose of the current study is to determine the significance of detecting EBV-specific sequences by PCR in asymptomatic pediatric liver transplant recipients. Peripheral-blood DNA was analyzed for the EBV genes, coding from the nuclear antigen 1 (EBNA-1) and the viral capsid antigen (gp220) by PCR. Samples from asymptomatic pediatric liver transplant recipients were analyzed from the immediate postoperative period and at 2- to 4-month intervals thereafter. We followed up 13 of these asymptomatic recipients who tested positive for EBV compared with 7 asymptomatic recipients who tested negative for EBV during the early posttransplantation period. Follow-up ranged from 1.5 to 4 years posttransplantation. Nine patients (69%) initially positive for EBV and asymptomatic ultimately developed symptoms of EBV infection, including fever, lymphadenopathy, rash, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms, and/or hepatitis. Five of these patients (56%) went on to develop posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorder based on histological examination of biopsied tissue and immunohistochemical identification of the EBV antigen/DNA in tissue. This is the first report suggesting that detection of EBV-specific sequences in the absence of symptoms may herald impending EBV-associated disorders. Thus, routine monitoring for circulating EBV sequences in asymptomatic recipients may be useful in the early identification of those at risk for developing EBV-associated disease and its ultimate prevention.
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View details for PubMedID 10648579