Epstein Barr virus (EBV) plays a causal role in some diseases, including infectious mononucleosis, lymphoproliferative diseases and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Detection of EBV infection has been shown to be a useful tool for diagnosing EBV-related diseases. In the present study, we compared the performance of molecular tests, including fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and EBV real-time PCR, to those of serological assays for the detection of EBV infection.
Thirty-eight patients with infectious mononucleosis (IM) were enrolled, of whom 31 were diagnosed with a mild type, and seven were diagnosed with IM with haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis and chronic active EBV infection. Twenty healthy controls were involved in the study. The atypical lymphocytes in peripheral blood were detected under a microscope and the percentage of positive cells was calculated. EBV DNA load in peripheral blood was detected using real-time PCR. The FISH assay was developed to detect the EBV genome from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Other diagnosis methods including the heterophil agglutination (HA) test and EBV-VCA-IgM test, to detect EBV were also compared. SPSS17.0 was used for statistical analysis.
In all, 5–41% atypical lymphocytes were found among the PBMC in mild IM patients, whereas 8–51% atypical lymphocytes were found in IM patients with haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis and chronic active EBV infection patients. There was no significant difference in the ratios of atypical lymphoma between patients of the different types. We observed that 71.2% of mild IM patients and 85.7% of IM patients with haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis and chronic active EBV infection patients were positive for EBV-VCA-IgM. EBV-VCA-IgM was negative in all healthy control subjects. In addition, 67.1% of mild IM patients tested heterophile antibody positive, whereas 71.4% of IM patients with haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis and chronic active EBV infection tested positive. EBV DNA detected using real-time PCR was observed in 89.5% of these IM patients. The EBV genome was detected by the FISH assay in 97.4% of the IM patients. The EB viral loads detected by FISH and real-time PCR increased with the severity of IM. The EBV genome was detected in almost all the PBMC of IM with haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis and chronic active EBV infection patients.
Molecular tests, including FISH and EBV real-time PCR, are more sensitive than serological assays for the detection of EBV infection. The FISH assay detecting EBV copies in unfractionated whole blood is preferable and superior to plasma real-time PCR in its reflection of the absolute viral burden circulating in the patients.