Abstract

Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), or human herpesvirus type 8 (HHV-8), is a γ2 herpesvirus (rhadinovirus) and the most recently discovered human tumour virus. It is involved in the pathogenesis of Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), primary effusion lymphoma and the plasma cell variant of multicentric Castleman's disease. KSHV is not pathogenic in most otherwise healthy individuals but is highly oncogenic in HIV-1-infected and iatrogenically immunosuppressed individuals. It establishes a latent infection in most KS spindle (endothelial tumour) cells and in the neoplastic B cells of primary effusion lymphomas. The KSHV genome contains several homologues of cellular genes known to regulate cell growth and differentiation. Although some of these have transforming properties in vitro, their precise role in oncogenesis is still under investigation. Other co-factors may be involved in the pathogenesis of KS in HIV-uninfected, immunocompetent individuals, e.g. in African endemic KS, but none have been identified yet. Transmission of KSHV among homosexual men appears to occur through sexual contact, but in endemic countries transmission is frequent in childhood and may occur through close contact within families. Four major variants of KSHV have been defined, on the basis of variability in the K1 gene; they may have co-evolved with certain human populations. In addition, some KSHV strains may have resulted from a recombination event with a related, but not yet identified, γ2 herpesvirus.

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