Frequent monitoring of Epstein-Barr virus DNA load in unfractionated whole blood is essential for early detection of posttransplant lymphoproliferative disease in high-risk patients

S J Stevens, E A Verschuuren, I Pronk, W van Der Bij, M C Harmsen, T H The, C J Meijer, A J van Den Brule, J M Middeldorp

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Posttransplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD) is a frequent and severe Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-associated complication in transplantation recipients that is caused by iatrogenic suppression of T-cell function. The diagnostic value of weekly EBV DNA load monitoring was investigated in prospectively collected unfractionated whole blood and serum samples of lung transplantation (LTx) recipients with and without PTLD. In PTLD patients, 78% of tested whole blood samples were above the cut-off value of quantitative competitive polymerase chain reaction (Q-PCR) (greater than 2000 EBV DNA copies per mL blood), with the majority of patients having high viral loads before and at PTLD diagnosis. Especially in a primary EBV-infected patient and in patients with conversion of immunosuppressive treatment, rapid increases in peripheral blood EBV DNA load diagnosed and predicted PTLD. In non-PTLD transplantation recipients, only 3.4% of the whole blood samples was above the cut-off value (P <.0001) despite heavy immune suppression and cytomegalovirus (CMV)-related disease. These findings illustrate the clinical importance of frequent EBV DNA load monitoring in LTx recipients. The increased EBV DNA loads in PTLD patients were restricted to the cellular blood compartment, as parallel serum samples were all below cut-off value, which indicates absence of lytic viral replication. EBV(+) cells in PTLD patients have a very short doubling time, which can be as low as 56 hours, thereby creating the need for high screening frequency in high-risk patients. Furthermore, it is shown that EBV and CMV can reactivate independently in LTx recipients and that EBV DNA load monitoring may be useful in discriminating PTLD from rejection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1165-71
Number of pages7
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2001


  • Adult
  • Comparative Study
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • DNA, Viral
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human
  • Humans
  • Journal Article
  • Lymphoproliferative Disorders
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Prospective Studies
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Risk Factors
  • Viral Load
  • Virus Activation

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