Rheumatoid arthritis is a multistep disorder associated with autoimmune features of yet unknown etiology. Implication of viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in rheumatoid arthritis pathogenesis has been suspected on the basis of several indirect observations, but thus far, a direct link between EBV and rheumatoid arthritis has not been provided. Here we show that a large fraction of T cells infiltrating affected joints from a patient with chronic rheumatoid arthritis recognizes two EBV transactivators (BZLF1 and BMLF1) in a major histocompatibility complex-restricted fashion. Responses to these EBV antigens by synovial lymphocytes from several other chronic rheumatoid arthritis patients were readily detectable. Thus these results suggest a direct contribution of EBV to chronic rheumatoid arthritis pathogenesis. They also demonstrate for the first time the occurrence of T cell responses against EBV transactivating factors, which might be central in the control of virus reactivation.

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