Infection with Epstein Barr means that the B cells, which are the primary memory cells of the immune system, are hi-jacked.
When the virus has penetrated, researchers observe an excess of a special bio-antenna, a receptor known as EB12, suddenly sprouting from the surface of the B cells. But why they do so remains a mystery.
The receptors are a vital component of the way cells communicate with their surroundings via hormones and other bio-molecules, for example, but in a body consisting of millions of cells and transmitters it can be hard to determine the part each molecule plays.
"It is possible that the large numbers of EB12 receptors could actually be the B cells response to the virus and an attempt to combat the infection. Another possibility is that the EB virus reprogrammes the cell for this explosive growth in the number of EB12 receptors. What we know for certain is that more EB12 receptors assist the B cell infected by the EB virus to multiply more rapidly thus spreading the infection faster," says postdoc Tau Benned-Jensen from the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen.
No fewer than 95 per cent of us carry the Epstein Barr Herpes virus.
We often encounter it as kids and it is normally harmless. Are we infected later in life EB virus may cause mononucleosis, and it seems to play a part in some forms of cancer, just as HPV affects the risk of cervical cancer. But we have no drugs to combat the Epstein Barr virus, and no vaccines for it.
"Under normal circumstances our immune systems can keep the EB virus infection in a latent state and a truce or stand-off may arise between the immune system and the virus," explains Mette Rosenkilde, professor of pharmacology at the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen.
"We cannot dispense with the infection and we carry it all life long, but to most of us it is harmless. For people whose immune system
|Contact: Mette Rosenkilde|
University of Copenhagen