• Vol. 37 No. 9, 769–777
  • 15 September 2008

Association of Epstein-Barr Virus with Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma and Current Status of Development of Cancer-derived Cell Lines



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It is well known that the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) contributes directly to tumourigenesis in nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), primarily in the undifferentiated form of NPC (WHO type III; UNPC or UC), which is commonly found in South East Asia. Unfortunately, research in NPC has been severely hampered by the lack of authentic EBV-positive (EBV+) human NPC cell lines for study. Since 1975, there have been more than 20 reported NPC cell lines. However, many of these NPC-derived cell lines do not express EBV transcripts in long-term culture, and therefore that finding may dispute the fundamental theory of NPC carcinogenesis. In fact, currently only one EBV+ human NPC cell line (C-666) in long-term culture has been reported. Hence, most of the NPC cell lines may not be representative of the disease itself. In order to better understand and treat NPC, there is an urgent need to develop more EBV+ human NPC cell lines. In this review, we discuss the authenticity of existing NPC cell lines and the impact of our understanding of NPC biology on the treatment of the disease and the relationship of EBV to NPC in the context of cell lines.

Although nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) has been reported in almost all parts of the world, most cases of NPC are found in South East Asia, Southern China (including Hong Kong), North Africa and in the Eskimo population of Alaska, USA. For reasons that still remain unclear, the Chinese are more susceptible to NPC than other races.

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