Experimental monoclonal antibodies may treat Epstein-Barr virus

When tested on human cells in the laboratory, a panel of experimental monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) targeting distinct locations of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) prevented infection. In addition, when tested on mice, one of the experimental mAbs gave nearly full protection against EBV infection and lymphoma. Today, the results are published online in the journal Immunity. The study was conducted by experts from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, in conjunction with scientists from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

EBV is among the most prevalent human viruses. The virus becomes dormant in the body following an EBV infection, although it may reactivate in some situations. It is connected with certain malignancies, particularly Hodgkin lymphoma, and autoimmune illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis. People with compromised immune systems, such as transplant recipients, are more prone to develop severe symptoms and problems from EBV infection than immunocompetent individuals. Currently, there is no registered vaccination against the virus.

Several experimental mAbs targeting the EBV surface proteins gH and gL were produced by the researchers. It is known that the two proteins enable EBV fusion with human cells and cause infection. The experimental mAbs blocked EBV infection of human B cells and epithelial cells, which line the throat and are the first site of EBV infection, in laboratory tests. Using X-ray crystallography and sophisticated microscopy to analyse the structure of the mAbs and their two surface proteins, the researchers identified many spots of weakness on the virus to target. One of the experimental mAbs, designated mAb 769B10, exhibited nearly full protection against EBV infection when administered to mice. Additionally, the mAb protected all mice tested against EBV lymphoma.

According to the researchers, the data reveal feasible EBV vaccine targets and the potential for the investigational mAbs to be employed alone or in combination to prevent or treat EBV infection in immunocompromised patients most susceptible to severe EBV-related disease. The authors emphasise that additional research with mAb 769B10 is planned.

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