- Original article
- Open Access
A single nucleotide polymorphism in the Epstein-Barr virus genome is strongly associated with a high risk of nasopharyngeal carcinoma
- Fu-Tuo Feng†1, 2,
- Qian Cui†1, 2,
- Wen-Sheng Liu1, 2,
- Yun-Miao Guo1, 2,
- Qi-Sheng Feng1, 2,
- Li-Zhen Chen1, 2,
- Miao Xu1, 2,
- Bing Luo3,
- Da-Jiang Li1, 2,
- Li-Fu Hu4,
- Jaap M. Middeldorp5,
- Octavia Ramayanti5,
- Qian Tao6,
- Su-Mei Cao1, 7,
- Wei-Hua Jia1, 2,
- Jin-Xin Bei†1, 2Email author and
- Yi-Xin Zeng†1, 2Email author
© Feng et al. 2015
- Received: 25 July 2015
- Accepted: 18 November 2015
- Published: 16 December 2015
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) commonly infects the general population and has been associated with nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), which has a high incidence in certain regions. This study aimed to address how EBV variations contribute to the risk of NPC.
Using logistic regression analysis and based on the sequence variations at EBV-encoded RPMS1, a multi-stage association study was conducted to identify EBV variations associated with NPC risk. A protein degradation assay was performed to characterize the functional relevance of the RPMS1 variations.
Based on EBV-encoded RPMS1 variations, a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the EBV genome (locus 155391: G>A, named G155391A) was associated with NPC in 157 cases and 319 healthy controls from an NPC endemic region in South China [P < 0.001, odds ratio (OR) = 4.47, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.71–7.37]. The results were further validated in three independent cohorts from the NPC endemic region (P < 0.001, OR = 5.20, 95% CI 3.18–8.50 in 168 cases vs. 241 controls, and P < 0.001, OR = 5.27, 95% CI 4.06–6.85 in 726 cases vs. 880 controls) and a non-endemic region (P < 0.001, OR = 7.52, 95% CI 3.69–15.32 in 58 cases vs. 612 controls). The combined analysis in 1109 cases and 2052 controls revealed that the SNP G155391A was strongly associated with NPC (P combined < 0.001, OR = 5.27, 95% CI 4.31–6.44). Moreover, the frequency of the SNP G155391A was associated with NPC incidence but was not associated with the incidences of other EBV-related malignancies. Furthermore, the protein degradation assay showed that this SNP decreased the degradation of the oncogenic RPMS1 protein.
Our study identified an EBV variation specifically and significantly associated with a high risk of NPC. These findings provide insights into the pathogenesis of NPC and strategies for prevention.
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Nasopharyngeal carcinoma
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a malignancy with a marked geographic distribution and ethnic tendencies, occurring with high frequencies in South China, Southeast Asia, North Africa, and Alaska . The etiology of NPC is complex, involving multiple factors such as genetic susceptibility, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, and environmental factors [2–4]. The known association between EBV and NPC was mainly driven by findings that EBV-encoded molecules, some of which are potentially oncogenic, were consistently observed in nearly all NPC tissues and that EBV serological markers, including viral DNA load and antibodies against viral antigens, were associated with NPC diagnosis and prognosis [5–7].
EBV infection is ubiquitous, affecting more than 95% of the worldwide population; EBV was also the first virus identified in a human tumor, i.e., Burkitt’s lymphoma. EBV has also been closely associated with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and some gastric cancers . The incidences of these malignancies show remarkably different geographic distributions , which is paradoxical in comparison to the widespread infection with EBV. Moreover, sequence diversity in EBV genes has been demonstrated among the general population and in different tumor types [10, 11]. These results suggest the hypothesis that there might be some disease-specific EBV subtypes preferentially hazardous to certain populations, making them more prone to certain specific diseases such as NPC.
A number of studies have reported attempts to identify NPC-specific EBV subtypes using restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis and DNA sequencing based on the sequence variations of EBV genes. These genes were consistently observed in NPC tissues, including EBV nuclear antigens (EBNAs), latent membrane proteins (LMP1 and LMP2), and EBV-encoded small nuclear RNAs (EBERs) [9, 10, 12]. EBV can be characterized as Type 1 (Type A) or Type 2 (Type B) based on the sequence diversity of EBNA2 and EBNA3s [13, 14]. Type 1 EBV strains are more common worldwide, whereas Type 2 is equally prevalent in parts of Africa [15–17]. Based on an amino acid polymorphism at position 487 of EBNA-1, EBV has been classified into five strains: P-ala (B95-8 prototype), P-thr, V-val, V-leu, and V-pro [18–20]. V-val was detected almost exclusively in Chinese populations, whereas P-ala and P-thr were detected with a high prevalence in healthy individuals from both Chinese and non-Chinese populations [21, 22]. Based on the nucleotide sequence variations at the LMP1 C-terminus, EBV can be separated into seven strains: China 1, China 2, Med, China 3, Alaskan, NC, and B95-8 . Among the Asian isolates, China 1 and B95-8 were identified in healthy subjects, and China 1 and China 2 were found in NPC patients . It has been reported that the Cantonese population is susceptible to the predominant China 1 strain in the NPC endemic region in China . These investigations suggested that there were relatively stable genomic variations in EBV and that different subtypes might exist in different geographic regions.
To further identify EBV variations linked closely to NPC risk, we conducted a pilot association analysis on several important EBV-encoded genes, including LMP1, EBNA1, and the BamHI-A rightward transcripts (BARTs) family, starting from NPC cases and healthy controls in the Cantonese population in South China. The most striking finding is that a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the EBV-encoded RPMS1 gene (locus 155391: G>A, named G155391A) is significantly associated with NPC incidence.
Previous studies have demonstrated that the BARTs family members are abnormally expressed in most NPC tissues and might contribute to NPC development [25, 26]. RPMS1 encodes a major part of the mRNA of the BARTs family and is regularly transcribed in NPC tissues [26, 27]. In particular, abundant RPMS1 mRNA was detected in NPC tissues and cell lines . Considering the potential roles of RPMS1 in NPC oncogenesis [25, 27, 29], we speculated that the sequence variation of RPMS1 might contribute to the incidence variations of NPC among different geographic regions and ethnic groups. Therefore, we conducted a large-scale case–control study using a multistage design to identify the association between RPMS1 variations and NPC risk.
Subjects and samples
For the pilot study, 60 paired NPC cases and healthy controls were recruited from Sun Yat-sen University Cancer Center (SYSUCC) between October 2005 and October 2007. Throat washing (TW) samples were subjected to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and direct DNA sequencing to screen for genomic variations exhibiting significant differences between the cases and controls.
The discovery stage involved 346 sporadic Cantonese NPC patients and 448 healthy subjects (Data_GD1), recruited from SYSUCC and the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University (1st AH-SYSU), Guangdong Province, an NPC endemic region in South China, between October 2005 and October 2007.
Characteristics of samples from nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) cases and healthy controls from the four case–control datasets
Oct 2005–Oct 2007
Sun Yat-sen University Cancer Center (SYSUCC)
The First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University (1st AH-SYSU)
Oct 2008–Jun 2013
Oct 2008–Jun 2013
Local hospitals in Guangdong province
Local hospitals in Guangdong province
Oct 2008–Jun 2013
The Affiliated Hospital of Qingdao University, the Shandong Province Cancer Center
Local hospitals in Shandong province
In the same period, additional TB samples from NPC patients were collected from NPC endemic regions in Asia, including 122 samples from SYSUCC, 30 samples from the National Cancer Center of Singapore in Singapore, and 30 samples from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong. TB samples from patients with EBV-related malignancies were also collected, including 10 samples of gastric carcinoma from AH-QDU and 23 samples of lymphoma (Burkitt’s, NK/T cell, or Hodgkin’s) from SYSUCC. An additional 39 TW samples from patients with non-EBV-associated cancers were collected at SYSUCC. TW samples were also collected from healthy subjects in NPC non-endemic regions, including 83 samples from the Medical Examination Center of Henan Provincial Military Department in Henan Province, 100 samples from the Beijing Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in Beijing, 116 samples from the Third People’s Hospital of Datong in Shanxi Province, and 11 Caucasian samples from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the VU University Medical Center in Netherlands.
The selection criteria for patients were self-reported Chinese and newly diagnosed patients without any radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or surgery. TW samples were collected before any treatment. Basic information was also collected from the participants regarding age, gender, residential region, ethnicity, and familial history of NPC or other cancers. Healthy controls with no self-reported history of cancer were randomly recruited from physical examination centers in hospitals and were frequency-matched to the cases by age (±5 years), gender, residential region, and ethnicity. This study was approved by the Human Ethics Committee at SYSUCC. Written informed consent was obtained from all the participants.
Isolation of DNA
Genomic DNA from TW samples was prepared using a conventional method. Briefly, the subjects rinsed their mouths with 15 mL of 0.9% saline for 10 s. Buccal epithelial cells were pelleted by centrifugation at 5000×g for 10 min. The cells were re-suspended and digested in a lysis buffer [10 mmol/L Tris·HCl with pH 8.0, 100 mmol/L NaCl, 25 mmol/L ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA), 0.5% Sarkosyl, and 0.1 mg/mL proteinase K] for 1–2 h at 55 °C. After treatment with RNase A, DNA was extracted from the cell lysate by adding phenol/chloroform and then precipitated with ethanol, followed by dissolving in 50 μL of water. Genomic DNA from TB samples and cells was extracted using a commercial DNA extraction kit (DNeasy Blood & Tissue Kit, Qiagen, Valencia, CA, USA).
Sequence analysis and detection of SNP in RPMS1
Primers used in the nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and their sequences
Sequences (5′ → 3′)
1st round nested
2nd round nested
3rd round nested
NP69 is an immortalized human nasopharyngeal epithelial cell line originally presented by George Tsao at the University of Hong Kong and maintained at SYSUCC. NP69 cells were grown in defined Keratinocyte serum-free medium supplemented with epidermal growth factor (EGF) (Invitrogen, Grand Island, NY, USA). The purity of NP69 cells was verified using short tandem repeat (STR) markers with the Goldeneye™20A STR kit (Peoplespot Co., Beijing, China) and an ABI 3100 analyzer (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Grand Island, NY, USA). Raji and C666-1 cells were maintained at our laboratory and cultured in RPMI-1640 medium supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum (Gibco, Grand Island, NY, USA). 293T cells were maintained at our laboratory and grown in Dulbecco’s modified eagle medium supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum (Gibco). All cells were cultured in a humidified chamber with 5% CO2 at 37 °C.
Plasmids and generation of stable RPMS1 expression transfectants
Full-length cDNA of RPMS1 was obtained by PCR from the cDNA library derived from the EBV-positive NPC cell line C666-1 and then cloned into the pBABE-Puro retroviral vector (Cell Biolabs, San Diego, CA, USA). Mutations were introduced using the Quick-Change Site-Directed Mutagenesis Kit (Stratagene, Santa Clara, CA, USA), and all mutations were verified by Sanger sequencing. The pBABE-Puro-RPMS1 (-Mut/-WT) expression vectors (constructed at our laboratory) and their corresponding control vectors (Cell Biolabs) were packaged into the retrovirus generated by 293 T cells, followed by the infection of NP69 cells. The respective stable transfectants in NP69 cells were selected against 1 μg/mL of puromycin.
Western blotting was performed as described previously . Briefly, cells were lysed in mammalian cell lysis buffer, and proteins within the clarified lysates were resolved by sodium dodecyl sulfate–polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) and transferred to polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF) membranes for immunoblotting against the corresponding antibody. The results were revealed using enhanced chemiluminescent (ECL) detection reagents (Beyotime Co., Shanghai, China). The rabbit polyclonal anti-RPMS1 antibody was from Proteintech Group Inc. (Wuhan, Hubei, China), and the human anti-β-actin antibody was from Sigma-Aldrich Co. (St. Louis, MO, USA). A horseradish peroxidase (HRP)-conjugated anti-rabbit IgG antibody was used as the secondary antibody (Promega, Madison, WI, USA).
To test the association between EBV variations and NPC risk, odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated by unconditional logistic regression. Subjects with the EBV prototype (155391G) were treated as the reference. ORs were adjusted for gender and age, where both were taken as categorical covariates (female or male; ≤35, 35–65, and >65 years). Fisher’s exact test was used to assess the frequency distribution of variables in two or more groups. The NPC risk associated with the affected EBV variations was characterized using the Cochran-Armitage trend test in the logistic regression analysis with adjustment for gender and age, where the variables of the EBV variations 155391G, 155391G/A, and 155391A were coded by 0, 1, and 2 in the statistical model, respectively. All statistical analyses were performed using the R3.0.1 software (http://www.r-project.org/). A P value of less than 0.05 was considered significant.
Association between a SNP in the EBV genome and high risk of NPC
Association between variations of EBNA1 and LMP1 in throat washing (TW) samples and the risk of NPC in Guangdong population (pilot study)
NPC [no. (%)]
Healthy subjects [no. (%)]
Single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) G155391A of RPMS1 and NPC risk
P trend †
P trend †
P trend †
P trend †
P trend †
To replicate the association, Loc155391 was genotyped in two independent sample groups recruited from the same NPC endemic region, consisting of 168 NPC patients and 241 healthy controls from Data_GD2 and 726 NPC patients and 880 healthy controls from Data_GD3 (Table 1). Logistic regression analysis showed that SNP G155391A was significantly associated with a high NPC risk in both sample groups (Data_GD2: P < 0.001, OR = 5.20, 95% CI 3.18–8.50; Data_GD3: P < 0.001, OR = 5.27, 95% CI 4.06–6.85; Table 4), indicating that the strong association was replicated in the two independent sample groups. As further confirmation, logistic regression analysis for SNP G155391A was conducted in another sample group from Shandong Province in North China, which is a NPC non-endemic region, involving 58 NPC patients and 612 healthy controls (Data_SD). The result revealed a consistently strong association between SNP G155391A and a high NPC risk (P < 0.001, OR = 7.52, 95% CI 3.69–15.32; Table 4), indicating that the association was further replicated. Meta-analysis of all the four samples with a total of 1109 NPC patients and 2052 healthy controls showed that SNP G155391A was associated with a high risk of NPC among all tested regions (P < 0.001, OR = 5.27, 95% CI 4.31–6.44), and there was no evidence of heterogeneity among the included cohorts (P = 0.71; Table 4). In addition, no other variations of RPMS1 were observed in any of the four sample groups.
Association of RPMS1 SNP G155391A and incidences of NPC and other malignancies
The frequencies of RPMS1 SNP G155391A in NPC cases and healthy controls from various world regions
Frequency of G155391A (%)
Association of RPMS1 SNP G155391A with the risk of NPC and other malignancies
155391G & 155391G/A
Lymphoma (NHL + HL)
Functional characterization of RPMS1 SNP G155391A
In this multi-stage association study with a large sample size, we identified an EBV genomic sequence variation represented by RPMS1 SNP G155391A that was associated with a high risk of NPC. This association is much stronger than those of non-viral environmental factors, such as the consumption of salted fish and preserved food, with NPC risk [32–34]. The frequency of RPMS1 SNP G155391A was significantly associated with the NPC incidence, and higher frequencies were observed in the NPC endemic areas, suggesting that RPMS1 SNP G155391A might explain the different incidences of NPC worldwide. RPMS1 SNP G155391A was enriched in NPC patients but was not associated with other malignancies; these results support the hypothesis that there is a highly oncogenic EBV subtype specifically leading to NPC risk.
The identification of the high-risk RPMS1 SNP G155391A for NPC emphasizes that the contribution of EBV strain variation to virus-associated malignancies should not be ignored. A similar scenario is the association of human papillomavirus (HPV) with cervical carcinomas, in which highly oncogenic HPV subtypes 16, 18, and 45 are the predominant contributors to the disease among more than 150 HPV subtypes [35, 36]. Therefore, HPV vaccine programs have shown promising population-level impacts, and the screening of HPV subtypes is important for the early detection of cervical carcinomas . Indeed, serological EBV markers are potentially useful for screening individuals with a high risk of NPC in multiplex families . The identification of the high-risk RPMS1 SNP G155391A suggests that we should consider the contribution of EBV variations to the applications of serological EBV markers, such as DNA in NPC monitoring and prognostication . With further investigation of other high-risk EBV variations, if any, we might be able to develop effective vaccines against high-risk EBV subtypes to promote NPC prevention.
RPMS1 is a unique gene belonging to the EBV BARTs family, which is abnormally expressed in most NPC tissues at the RNA level and might contribute to NPC development [25, 26]. No endogenous RPMS1 protein has been reported in cultured NPC cells or NPC tumor biopsies , and thus, we suspected that RPMS1 might be translated into protein at very low levels, or else that the RPMS1 protein was degraded very rapidly. Indeed, we found that the RPMS1 variations defined by 155391A and 155391G are functionally relevant to the stability of RPMS1 protein overexpressed in vitro (Fig. 2). Compared with the low-risk 155391G, the high-risk 155391A resulted in a longer half-life of RPMS1 protein, as shown in the protein degradation assays. With oncogenic capacity, RPMS1 has been shown to interact with the Notch intracellular domain and regulate the downstream pathway to promote cell differentiation and proliferation . A recent genome sequencing study of NPC revealed accumulated mutations in the genes involved in the Notch pathway, including NOTCH1, NOTCH2, and NOTCH3 , suggesting that the dysregulation of the Notch pathway might be an important driving event in NPC. These results further suggest that the interaction between EBV-encoded RPMS1 and the host Notch pathway might be a significant process during NPC development and that the high-risk 155391A, leading to a longer half-life of RPMS1 protein, may exhibit stronger carcinogenesis potential.
We discovered a high-risk EBV SNP for NPC, which suggests the existence of disease-related EBV subtypes. Moreover, our findings indicate that different distributions of EBV subtypes in different geographic regions and ethnic groups might be among the reasons for the differences in NPC incidence worldwide. Therefore, our results provide new insights for screening populations at a high risk of NPC and strategies for EBV vaccine development in the future. We acknowledge that further studies with larger sample sizes, more ethnic groups, and more geographic regions are needed to replicate our findings and rule out the confounding effects of population and the source of EBV, as the RPMS1 SNP G155391A had much higher frequency in the Guangdong area based on TW samples. Certainly, more efforts are required to analyze the whole genome sequence of EBV to define haplotypes, instead of a single SNP, for genotyping the virus detected in healthy subjects or patients with different disorders and different ethnicities.
YXZ and JXB conceived the study and supervised the work. YMG, QSF, LZC, MX, BL, DJL, LFH, JMM, OR, QT, and SMC prepared the samples. FTF and QC performed the experiments. WHJ reviewed the cases. FTF, QC, and WSL performed the analyses. FTF, QC, JXB, and YXZ interpreted the results and wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
This work was supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (973 Plan, No. 2011CB504301 and No. 2011CB504302), the High-Tech Research and Development Program of China (863 Plan, No. 2012AA02A206 and No. 2012AA02A501), the Program for New Century Excellent Talents at Sun Yat-sen University (No. NCET-11-0529), and the Specialized Research Fund for the Doctoral Program of Higher Education (No. 20110171120099).
We thank all the recruited participants in this work and all the staff members that participated in the sample collections from the listed institutions.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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