Epstein-Barr Virus Turns 50

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Science  21 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6177, pp. 1323-1325
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252786

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This month marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) as the first human tumor virus. In March 1964, a team led by Anthony Epstein identified herpesvirus-like particles in cultured tumor cells derived from African Burkitt's lymphoma tissue (1). At that time, the idea that a virus caused human cancer was met with some skepticism because the theory that cancer was infectious had been dismissed in the previous century. Stalwart investigators continued to track EBV until the viral culprit was declared a class I carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization in the late 1990s. Despite the consensus that EBV is a bona fide tumor virus, the mechanisms of cancer causation by EBV remain an area of active investigation and controversy 50 years since its initial discovery.