While Epstein-Barr virus may infect a memory B cell directly, Thorley-Lawson's team has discovered that the virus can apparently build itself a home out of a naive B cell as well.
Other investigators have demonstrated that the virus exploits a set of B cells, known as memory B cells, in which it can persist for years.
In work over the past 5 years, summarized in the October 2001 Nature Immunology, he and his colleagues have demonstrated that the virus endures by taking advantage of memory B cells.
Memory B cells also enable vaccines to protect people for decades.
Alternatively, they become memory B cells and wait for subsequent infections by the microbe that initiated the immune response.
In carriers of Epstein-Barr virus, Thorley-Lawson and his colleagues have found that the virus resides in memory B cells. There, the virus essentially shuts down, making few, if any, proteins that would betray its presence.
Two other viral genes, which encode the proteins dubbed LMP1 and LMP2, promote the survival of the newly created memory B cells. The immune system has developed safeguards to eliminate unnecessary B cells that might harm the body.
PROTECTIVE PROTEINS Establishing residence in memory B cells is an excellent way for a virus to persevere in a person, but Epstein-Barr virus must also prevent itself from getting evicted from the cell.
In the elderly, another high-risk population, a universal vaccine may be particularly advantageous because the protective antibodies are generated by memory B cells
that tend to be maintained into old age and can be recalled by booster vaccination.