Introduction. In liver transplant recipients with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) disease, we reported a low rate of acute rejection after stopping or markedly lowering immunosuppression. This observation led to the hypothesis that EBV, as a means of viral persistence, induces expression of antiapoptotic factors and these factors, in turn, confer protection to the transplanted organ. Bcl-2, an antiapoptotic factor induced by EBV in various host cells, is not normally expressed in the liver. We questioned whether bcl-2 is expressed in the transplanted liver and whether its expression is modified by EBV. Materials and Methods. Retrospective liver biopsy specimen from liver transplant patients diagnosed with EBV (n=12) were examined for the presence of bcl-2 by immunohistochemistry and compared with EBV (-) transplant (n=15), and nontransplant (n=13) livers. Results. The most significant finding was the presence of endothelial bcl-2 expression in the majority of EBV (+) transplant samples examined (67%) and its relative absence in the other two groups (P<0.005). There was also bcl-2 expression in the hepatocytes and lymphocytes of the majority of transplant liver samples, irrespective of EBV status. Discussion. We have identified a strong association between EBV infection and endothelial bcl-2 expression in transplant livers. We also found that transplantation, in itself, was associated with bcl-2 expression in the hepatocytes and lymphocytes of liver allografts.
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