Interleukin-6 (IL-6) promotes growth and tumorigenicity of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-immortalized B cells, and is abnormally elevated in the serum of solid organ transplant recipients who develop EBV-positive posttransplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD), but not in control transplant recipients. Endothelial cells derived from PTLD lesions were found to secrete spontaneously high levels of IL-6 in vitro for up to 4 mo. We examined possible mechanisms for sustained IL-6 production by endothelial cells. Here, we show that EBV can infect endothelial cells in vitro. After 3-4 wk incubation with lethally irradiated EBV-positive, but not EBV-negative cell lines, a proportion of human umbilical cord-derived endothelial cells (HUVECs) expressed in situ the EBV-encoded small RNAs (EBER). Southern blot analysis after polymerase chain reaction showed EBV DNA in HUVEC that had been incubated with lethally irradiated EBV-positive cells, but not in the controls. Exposure of HUVECs to lethally irradiated EBV-positive but not EBV-negative cell lines induced IL-6 production that was sustained for up to 120 d of culture. These studies identify endothelial cells as targets for EBV infection and raise the possibility that this infection may be important in the life cycle and pathology of EBV.

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