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Research Article

An increased prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus infection in young patients suggests a possible etiology for systemic lupus erythematosus.

J A James, K M Kaufman, A D Farris, E Taylor-Albert, T J Lehman and J B Harley

Department of Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73104, USA.

Published December 15, 1997

An unknown environmental agent has been suspected to induce systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) in man. Prompted by our recent immunochemical findings, we sought evidence for an association between Epstein-Barr virus infection and lupus. Because the vast majority of adults have been infected with Epstein-Barr virus, we chose to study children and young adults. Virtually all (116 of 117, or 99%) of these young patients had seroconverted against Epstein-Barr virus, as compared with only 70% (107 of 153) of their controls (odds ratio 49.9, 95% confidence interval 9.3-1025, P < 0. 00000000001). The difference in the rate of Epstein-Barr virus seroconversion could not be explained by serum IgG level or by cross-reacting anti-Sm/nRNP autoantibodies. No similar difference was found in the seroconversion rates against four other herpes viruses. An assay for Epstein-Barr viral DNA in peripheral blood lymphocytes established Epstein-Barr virus infection in the peripheral blood of all 32 of the lupus patients tested, while only 23 of the 32 matched controls were infected (odds ratio > 10, 95% confidence interval 2.53-infinity, P < 0.002). When considered with other evidence supporting a relationship between Epstein-Barr virus and lupus, these data are consistent with, but do not in themselves establish, Epstein-Barr virus infection as an etiologic factor in lupus.

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