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Published in CANCER RESEARCH 59, 5514–5520, November 1, 1999. Used by permission.


Lymphoproliferative diseases that occur in immunocompromised patients are frequently associated with herpesviruses. These patients often fare poorly after treatment with conventional chemotherapy. We reported previously that patients with AIDS-related Burkitt’s lymphoma (BL) responded to parenteral azidothymidine (AZT) and IFN-α. We found that EBV-positive lymphoma cells derived from these patients cultured with AZT express CD95 and undergo apoptosis. AZT-mediated apoptosis was caspase dependent and occurred despite Fas receptor blockade. In contrast, EBV-negative lymphomas were resistant to AZT-induced apoptosis, as were EBV-positive lymphomas that expressed high levels of bcl-2. Primary effusion lymphoma (PEL) cell lines infected with human herpesvirus type 8 required IFN-α to potentiate AZT-induced apoptosis. IFN-α did not up-regulate CD95 in BL or PEL but did induce expression of the death receptor ligand, CD95 ligand. AZT-sensitive lymphomas also accumulated significantly higher intracellular AZT monophosphate than did resistant lymphomas. Our data demonstrated distinct apoptotic responses to AZT and IFN-α in herpesvirus-associated lymphomas. EBV-positive BL cells that expressed low BCL-2 levels were sensitive to AZT alone; PEL cells required the addition of IFN-a to enhance apoptosis, and EBV-negative lymphomas were insensitive to both agents. AZT-sensitive BL cells transfected with BCL-2 became resistant. Susceptibility to antivirus- mediated apoptosis may be exploited to improve the therapy of certain herpesvirus-associated lymphomas.

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