The cycle of EBV infection explains persistence, the sizes of the infected cell populations and which come under CTL regulation.

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Previous analysis of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) persistent infection has involved biological and immunological studies to identify and quantify infected cell populations and the immune response to them. This led to a biological model whereby EBV infects and activates naive B-cells, which then transit through the germinal center to become resting memory B-cells where the virus resides quiescently. Occasionally the virus reactivates from these memory cells to produce infectious virions. Some of this virus infects new naive B-cells, completing a cycle of infection. What has been lacking is an understanding of the dynamic interactions between these components and how their regulation by the immune response produces the observed pattern of viral persistence. We have recently provided a mathematical analysis of a pathogen which, like EBV, has a cycle of infected stages. In this paper we have developed biologically credible values for all of the parameters governing this model and show that with these values, it successfully recapitulates persistent EBV infection with remarkable accuracy. This includes correctly predicting the observed patterns of cytotoxic T-cell regulation (which and by how much each infected population is regulated by the immune response) and the size of the infected germinal center and memory populations. Furthermore, we find that viral quiescence in the memory compartment dictates the pattern of regulation but is not required for persistence; it is the cycle of infection that explains persistence and provides the stability that allows EBV to persist at extremely low levels. This shifts the focus away from a single infected stage, the memory B-cell, to the whole cycle of infection. We conclude that the mathematical description of the biological model of EBV persistence provides a sound basis for quantitative analysis of viral persistence and provides testable predictions about the nature of EBV-associated diseases and how to curb or prevent them.