Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is present in over 90% of the world's population. This infection is considered benign, even though in limited cases EBV is associated with infectious and neoplastic conditions. Over the past decade, the EBV association with breast cancer has been constantly debated. Adding to this clinical and biological uncertainty, different techniques gave contradictory results for the presence of EBV in breast carcinoma specimens. In this study, minor groove binding (MGB)-TaqMan real time PCR was used to detect the presence of EBV DNA in both peripheral blood and tumor samples of selected patients.
Peripheral blood and breast carcinoma specimens from 24 patients were collected. DNA was extracted and then amplified by MGB-TaqMan real time PCR.
Of 24 breast tumor specimens, 11 (46%) were positive for EBV DNA. Of these 11 breast tumor specimens, 7 (64%) were also positive for EBV DNA in the peripheral blood, while 4 (36%) were positive for EBV DNA in the tumor, but negative in the blood.
EBV was found at extremely low levels, with a mean of 0.00004 EBV genomes per cell (range 0.00014 to 0.00001 EBV genomes per cell). Furthermore, our finding of the presence of EBV in the tumor specimens coupled to the absence of detection of EBV genomic DNA in the peripheral blood is consistent with the epithelial nature of the virus. Because of the low levels of viral DNA in tumor tissue, further studies are needed to assess the biological input of EBV in breast cancer.