Lucia Mundo 1 , Leonardo Del Porro 1 , Massimo Granai 1 , Maria Chiara Siciliano 1 , Virginia Mancini 1 , Raffaella Santi 2 , Lynnette Marcar 3 , 4 , Katerina Vrzalikova 5 , Federica Vergoni 2 , Gioia Di Stefano 2 , Gianluca Schiavoni 6 , Giovanna Segreto 1 , Noel Onyango 7 , Joshua Akelo Nyagol 7 , Teresa Amato 1 , Cristiana Bellan 1 , Ioannis Anagnostopoulos 8 , Brunangelo Falini 6 , Lorenzo Leoncini 1 , Enrico Tiacci , 6 , Stefano Lazzi , 1
1 June 2020
The Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) is linked to various B-cell lymphomas, including Burkitt lymphoma (BL), classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) at frequencies ranging, by routine techniques, from 5 to 10% of cases in DLBCL to >95% in endemic BL. Using higher-sensitivity methods, we recently detected EBV traces in a few EBV-negative BL cases, possibly suggesting a “ hit-and-run” mechanism. Here, we used routine and higher-sensitivity methods (qPCR and ddPCR for conserved EBV genomic regions and miRNAs on microdissected tumor cells; EBNA1 mRNA In situ detection by RNAscope) to assess EBV infection in a larger lymphoma cohort [19 BL, 34 DLBCL, 44 cHL, 50 follicular lymphomas (FL), 10 T-lymphoblastic lymphomas (T-LL), 20 hairy cell leukemias (HCL), 10 mantle cell lymphomas (MCL)], as well as in several lymphoma cell lines (9 cHL and 6 BL). qPCR, ddPCR, and RNAscope consistently documented the presence of multiple EBV nucleic acids in rare tumor cells of several cases EBV-negative by conventional methods that all belonged to lymphoma entities clearly related to EBV (BL, 6/9 cases; cHL, 16/32 cases; DLBCL, 11/30 cases), in contrast to fewer cases (3/47 cases) of FL (where the role of EBV is more elusive) and no cases (0/40) of control lymphomas unrelated to EBV (HCL, T-LL, MCL). Similarly, we revealed traces of EBV infection in 4/5 BL and 6/7 HL cell lines otherwise conventionally classified as EBV negative. Interestingly, additional EBV-positive cases (1 DLBCL, 2 cHL) relapsed as EBV-negative by routine methods while showing EBNA1 expression in rare tumor cells by RNAscope. The relapse specimens were clonally identical to their onset biopsies, indicating that the lymphoma clone can largely loose the EBV genome over time but traces of EBV infection are still detectable by high-sensitivity methods. We suggest EBV may contribute to lymphoma pathogenesis more widely than currently acknowledged.