Targeting Epstein-Barr Virus in Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma

Pok Man Hau, Hong Lok Lung*, Man Wu, Chi Man Tsang, Ka-Leung Wong, Nai Ki Mak, Kwok Wai Lo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is consistently associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection in regions in which it is endemic, including Southern China and Southeast Asia. The high mortality rates of NPC patients with advanced and recurrent disease highlight the urgent need for effective treatments. While recent genomic studies have revealed few druggable targets, the unique interaction between the EBV infection and host cells in NPC strongly implies that targeting EBV may be an efficient approach to cure this virus-associated cancer. Key features of EBV-associated NPC are the persistence of an episomal EBV genome and the requirement for multiple viral latent gene products to enable malignant transformation. Many translational studies have been conducted to exploit these unique features to develop pharmaceutical agents and therapeutic strategies that target EBV latent proteins and induce lytic reactivation in NPC. In particular, inhibitors of the EBV latent protein EBNA1 have been intensively explored, because of this protein's essential roles in maintaining EBV latency and viral genome replication in NPC cells. In addition, recent advances in chemical bioengineering are driving the development of therapeutic agents targeting the critical functional regions of EBNA1. Promising therapeutic effects of the resulting EBNA1-specific inhibitors have been shown in EBV-positive NPC tumors. The efficacy of multiple classes of EBV lytic inducers for NPC cytolytic therapy has also been long investigated. However, the lytic-induction efficiency of these compounds varies among different EBV-positive NPC models in a cell-context-dependent manner. In each tumor, NPC cells can evolve and acquire somatic changes to maintain EBV latency during cancer progression. Unfortunately, the poor understanding of the cellular mechanisms regulating EBV latency-to-lytic switching in NPC cells limits the clinical application of EBV cytolytic treatment. In this review, we discuss the potential approaches for improvement of the above-mentioned EBV-targeting strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number600
Number of pages18
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

User-Defined Keywords

  • BZLF1
  • cytolytic therapy
  • EBNA1
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • LMP1
  • nasopharyngeal carcinoma


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