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Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), a ubiquitous gamma herpes virus, infects more than 95% of the human population before adulthood. Life-long persistence, usually without adverse health consequences, relies on a balance between viral latency, viral replication, and host immune response. Patients with EBV-related disease often have high levels of EBV DNA in their plasma. This study addresses whether this circulating, cell-free EBV DNA is encapsidated in virions or exists as naked genomes. First, an assay was developed, combining DNase I and quantitative real-time PCR, to discriminate encapsidated from naked EBV DNA. EBV DNA was almost always naked in the plasma of AIDS-related lymphoma patients (n = 11) and immunosuppressed/posttransplantation patients (n = 8). In contrast, infectious mononucleosis patients (n = 30) often had a mixture of encapsidated and naked EBV DNA. These findings may be important in understanding how viral load relates to disease status and in predicting response to nucleoside analogs and other antiviral therapies.