OBJECTIVE: We sought to determine whether the serological response towards lytic cycle antigens of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is altered in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients.
METHOD: We used enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to investigate the prevalence of EBV early antigen diffuse (EBV-EA/D) antibodies in sera from 60 patients with SLE, 40 with scleroderma (SSc), 20 with primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS), 20 with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), 20 healthy controls, and also subjects with various circulating autoantibodies. Samples from patients were obtained from clinics specialized within the diseases in Denmark and Sweden and samples from healthy controls were obtained from volunteers.
RESULTS: A significant elevated titre of immunoglobulin (Ig)A, IgG, and IgM EBV-EA/D antibodies was found in SLE patients compared to healthy controls, a finding not explained by immunosuppressive treatment or disease activity. The largest difference was observed for IgA EBV-EA/D antibodies (p = 0.0013) with a seropositive rate of 58% in SLE patients and 0% in healthy controls. RA and SSc patients and individuals seropositive for anti-Scl-70 were additionally found to have elevated titres of IgA EBV-EA/D antibodies (40%, p = 0.014; 60%, p = 0.015; and 38.5%, p = 0.045, respectively). However, the titres were generally lower than in SLE patients.
CONCLUSION: Our findings support an association between EBV and SLE. The elevated titre of EBV-EA/D-directed IgA antibodies found in SLE patients could suggest reactivation of EBV in epithelial cells or reinfection of epithelial cells after reactivation in B cells, indicating lack of control of the latent infection.