The Epstein-Barr virus has evolved a plethora of strategies to evade immune system recognition and to establish latent infection in memory B cells, where the virus resides lifelong without any consequence in the majority of individuals. However, some imbalances in the equilibrium between the inherent virus transforming properties and the host immune system can lead to the development of different tumors, such as lymphoproliferative disorders, Hodgkin's lymphoma, Burkitt's lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. The expression of viral antigens in malignant cells makes them suitable targets for immunotherapeutic approaches, which are mainly based on the ex vivo expansion of EBV-specific T cells. Indeed, the infusion of virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes has proved not only to be safe and effective, but also capable of restoring or inducing a protective anti-virus immunity, which is lacking, albeit to a different extent, in every EBV-driven malignancy. The purpose of this review is to summarize the results of adoptive immunotherapy approaches for EBV-related malignancies, with particular emphasis on the immunological and virological aspects linked to the clinical responses obtained. Data collected confirm the clinical relevance of the use of EBV-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in the field of adoptive immunotherapy and suggest the increasing importance of this approach also against other tumors, concurrent with the increasing knowledge of the intimate and continuous interplay between the virus and the host immune system.
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