Extra-telomeric functions of telomerase in the pathogenesis of Epstein-Barr virus-driven B-cell malignancies and potential therapeutic implications

Silvia Giunco, Maria Raffaella Petrara, Manuela Zangrossi, Andrea Celeghin, Anita De Rossi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a ubiquitous human γ-herpesvirus causally linked to a broad spectrum of both lymphoid and epithelial malignancies. In order to maintain its persistence in host cells and promote tumorigenesis, EBV must restrict its lytic cycle, which would ultimately lead to cell death, selectively express latent viral proteins, and establish an unlimited proliferative potential. The latter step depends on the maintenance of telomere length provided by telomerase. The viral oncoprotein LMP-1 activates TERT, the catalytic component of telomerase. In addition to its canonical role in stabilizing telomeres, TERT may promote EBV-driven tumorigenesis through extra-telomeric functions. TERT contributes toward preserving EBV latency; in fact, through the NOTCH2/BATF pathway, TERT negatively affects the expression of BZLF1, the master regulator of the EBV lytic cycle. In contrast, TERT inhibition triggers a complete EBV lytic cycle, leading to the death of EBV-infected cells. Interestingly, short-term TERT inhibition causes cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, partly by inducing telomere-independent activation of the ATM/ATR/TP53 pathway. Importantly, TERT inhibition also sensitizes EBV-positive tumor cells to antiviral therapy and enhances the pro-apoptotic effects of chemotherapeutic agents. We provide here an overview on how the extra-telomeric functions of TERT contribute to EBV-driven tumorigenesis. We also discuss the potential therapeutic approach of TERT inhibition in EBV-driven malignancies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalInfectious Agents and Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 10 2018


  • B-cell malignancies
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Latent/lytic viral cycle
  • Telomerase
  • TERT extra-telomeric functions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Oncology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Cancer Research


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