Expression of VCA (viral capsid antigen) and EBNA1 (Epstein–Barr-virus-encoded nuclear antigen 1) genes of Epstein–Barr virus inPichia pastorisand application of the products in a screening test for patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma

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EBV (Epstein–Barr virus) serological tests have been used for many years as accessory diagnostic predictors of NPC (nasopharyngeal carcinoma). To date, IF (indirect immunofluorescence) assays still serve as the ‘gold standard’ for EBV serodiagnosis. However, IF assays are time-consuming, unsuitable for automatic handling and difficult to standardize. This makes their application in mass screening of populations inconvenient. Some of the technical difficulties associated with IF have been overcome by the development of specific ELISAs, but, at present, high sensitivity and specificity cannot be achieved simultaneously by using recombinant protein-based ELISAs, as the diagnostic value of different fragments of EBV in NPC is different. In an attempt to determine a suitable recombinant EBV protein for diagnostic purposes, fragments of EBV VCA (viral capsid antigen) and EBNA1 (Epstein–Barr-virus-encoded nuclear antigen 1) genes were expressed in the methylotrophic yeastPichia pastoris, and a novel ELISA was established usingP. pastoris-expressed VCA-BALF4 [aa (amino acids) 287–623; theBALF4gene encodes the EBV glycoprotein gp125], EBNA1 (aa 390–641) and VCA-BFRF3 (the geneBFRF3encodes a viral structural capsid protein or tegument protein VCA p18) proteins. Serum samples were collected from patients with NPC and healthy controls and were tested using this ELISA. The sensitivity of VCA-BFRF3, VCA-BALF4 and EBNA1 tests in the NPC sera were 65.0 (195/300), 76.3 (229/300) and 81.4% (244/300) respectively, whereas the specificity of normal individuals were 92 (460/500), 96 (480/500) and 95.8% (479/500). The optimum combination is VCA-BALF4 plus EBNA1, which identified 90.3% (271/300) of the NPC patients and had a specificity of 92.8% (464/500) for normal individuals. The results obtained from the evaluation of three antibodies to EBV as markers for detecting NPC suggests that a combination of EBNA1 (aa 390–641) and VCA-BALF4 (aa 287–623) assays would give better results in screening for NPC.

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