EBV-associated hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (EBV-HLH) is a rare yet devastating disorder caused by EBV infection in humans. However, the mechanism of this disease has yet to be elucidated because of a lack of appropriate animal models. Here, we used a human CD34(+) cell-transplanted humanized mouse model and reproduced pathologic conditions resembling EBV-HLH in humans. By 10 weeks postinfection, two-thirds of the infected mice died after exhibiting high and persistent viremia, leukocytosis, IFN-gamma cytokinenemia, normocytic anemia, and thrombocytopenia. EBV-infected mice also showed systemic organ infiltration by activated CD8(+) T cells and prominent hemophagocytosis in BM, spleen, and liver. Notably, the level of EBV load in plasma correlated directly with both the activation frequency of CD8(+) T cells and the level of IFN-gamma in plasma. Moreover, high levels of EBV-encoded small RNA1 were detected in plasma of infected mice, reflecting what has been observed in patients. These findings suggest that our EBV infection model mirrors virologic, hematologic, and immunopathologic aspects of EBV-HLH. Furthermore, in contrast to CD8(+) T cells, we found a significant decrease of natural killer cells, myeloid dendritic cells, and plasmacytoid dendritic cells in the spleens of infected mice, suggesting that the collapse of balanced immunity associates with the progression of EBV-HLH pathogenesis.
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