Epstein–barr virus—associated malignancies and immune escape: The role of the tumor microenvironment and tumor cell evasion strategies

Marcus Bauer, Simon Jasinski-Bergner, Ofer Mandelboim, Claudia Wickenhauser, Barbara Seliger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The detailed mechanisms of Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) infection in the initiation and progression of EBV-associated malignancies are not yet completely understood. During the last years, new insights into the mechanisms of malignant transformation of EBV-infected cells including somatic mutations and epigenetic modifications, their impact on the microenvironment and resulting unique immune signatures related to immune system functional status and immune escape strategies have been reported. In this context, there exists increasing evidence that EBV-infected tumor cells can influence the tumor microenvironment to their own benefit by establishing an immune-suppressive surrounding. The identified mechanisms include EBV gene integration and latent expression of EBV-infection-triggered cytokines by tumor and/or bystander cells, e.g., cancer-associated fibroblasts with effects on the composition and spatial distribution of the immune cell subpopulations next to the infected cells, stroma constituents and extracellular vesicles. This review summarizes (i) the typical stages of the viral life cycle and EBV-associated transformation, (ii) strategies to detect EBV genome and activity and to differentiate various latency types, (iii) the role of the tumor microenvironment in EBV-associated malignancies, (iv) the different immune escape mechanisms and (v) their clinical relevance. This gained information will enhance the development of therapies against EBV-mediated diseases to improve patient outcome.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number5189
Issue number20
StatePublished - 16 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • EBV
  • EBV-associated malignancies
  • Immune escape
  • Malignant transformation
  • Tumor microenvironment


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