Using Epstein-Barr viral load assays to diagnose, monitor, and prevent posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorder.
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNA measurement is being incorporated into routine medical practice to help diagnose, monitor, and predict posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD) in immunocompromised graft recipients. PTLD is an aggressive neoplasm that almost always harbors EBV DNA within the neoplastic lymphocytes, and it is often fatal if not recognized and treated promptly. Validated protocols, commercial reagents, and automated instruments facilitate implementation of EBV load assays by real-time PCR. When applied to either whole blood or plasma, EBV DNA levels reflect clinical status with respect to EBV-related neoplasia. While many healthy transplant recipients have low viral loads, high EBV loads are strongly associated with current or impending PTLD. Complementary laboratory assays as well as histopathologic examination of lesional tissue help in interpreting modest elevations in viral load. Circulating EBV levels in serial samples reflect changes in tumor burden and represent an effective, noninvasive tool for monitoring the efficacy of therapy. In high-risk patients, serial testing permits early clinical intervention to prevent progression toward frank PTLD. Restoring T cell immunity against EBV is a major strategy for overcoming PTLD, and novel EBV-directed therapies are being explored to thwart virus-driven neoplasia.