Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) adsorption to human B lymphocytes is mediated by the viral envelope glycoprotein, gp350/220, which binds to the cell surface protein, CD21, also known as the CR2 complement receptor. Human epithelial cells also express an EBV receptor. A candidate surface molecule of 195 kD has previously been identified on an epithelial cell line and explanted epithelial tissue by reactivity with the CD21 specific monoclonal antibody (mAb), HB-5a. In experiments to further characterize the epithelial cell EBV receptor, we have found that two human epithelial cell lines, RHEK-1 and HeLa, specifically bind intact EB virions. A 145-kD protein, similar in size to B lymphocyte CD21, was specifically precipitated from surface iodinated RHEK-1 cells using the HB-5a mAb, or using purified soluble gp350/220 coupled to agarose beads. The previously identified 195-kD protein did not bind to gp350/220 or react with two other anti-CD21 mAbs. CD21 homologous RNA, similar in size to the B lymphocyte CD21 mRNA, was detected in both RHEK-1 and HeLa cells. The nucleotide sequence of the epithelial cell cDNA was identical to B lymphocyte CD21. The longest clone differs from previously reported CD21 cDNAs in having additional 5' untranslated sequence. Polymerase chain reaction amplification of RHEK-1- or B lymphoblastoid-derived cDNA verified that most CD21 transcripts are initiated at least 30-50 nucleotides upstream of the previously reported mRNA cap site. These experiments demonstrate that human epithelial cells can express CD21, and that CD21 is likely to mediate EBV adsorption to epithelial cells.

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