Computer analysis of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genome indicates there are ~100 open reading frames (ORFs). Thus far about 30 EBV genes divided into the categories latent and lytic have been identified. The BamHI F region of EBV is abundantly transcribed during lytic replication. This region is highly conserved among herpesviruses, thus suggesting that some common function could be retained in the ORFs encompassed within this viral fragment. To identify putative novel proteins and possible new markers for viral replication, we focused our attention on the first rightward ORF in the BamHI F region (BFRF1). Histidine and glutathione S-transferase-tagged BFRF1 fusion proteins were synthesized to produce a mouse monoclonal antibody (MAb). Analysis of human sera revealed a high seroprevalence of antibodies to BFRF1 in patients affected by nasopharyngeal carcinoma or Burkitt's lymphoma, whereas no humoral response to BFRF1 could be detected among healthy donors. An anti-BFRF1 MAb recognizes a doublet migrating at 37 to 38 kDa in cells extracts from EBV-infected cell lines following lytic cycle activation and in an EBV-negative cell line (DG75) transfected with a plasmid expressing the BFRF1 gene. Northern blot analysis allowed the detection of a major transcript of 3.7 kb highly expressed in EBV-positive lytic cycle-induced cell lines. Treatment with inhibitors of viral DNA polymerase, such as phosphonoacetic acid and acyclovir, reduced but did not abolish the transcription of BFRF1, thus indicating that BFRF1 can be classified as an early gene. Cell fractionation experiments, as well as immunolocalization by immunofluorescence microscopy, immunohistochemistry, and immunoelectron microscopy, showed that BFRF1 is localized on the plasma membrane and nuclear compartments of the cells and is a structural component of the viral particle. Identification of BFRF1 provides a new marker with which to monitor EBV infection and might help us better understand the biology of the virus.
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