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Measurement of Epstein-Barr virus DNA load using a novel quantification standard containing two EBV DNA targets and SYBR Green I dye

Meav-Lang J Lay1*, Robyn M Lucas2, Mala Ratnamohan1, Janette Taylor1, Anne-Louise Ponsonby3, Dominic E Dwyer1 and the Ausimmune Investigator Group (AIG)

Author Affiliations

1 Virology Department, Centre For Infectious Diseases & Microbiology Laboratory Services, Institute of Clinical Pathology & Medical Research, Institute Road, Westmead Hospital, Westmead 2145, New South Wales, Australia

2 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 0200 Australia

3 Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, 9th Floor AP Building, The Royal Children's Hospital, Flemington Road, Parkville, Victoria 3052, Australia

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Virology Journal 2010, 7:252  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-7-252

Published: 22 September 2010



Reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection may cause serious, life-threatening complications in immunocompromised individuals. EBV DNA is often detected in EBV-associated disease states, with viral load believed to be a reflection of virus activity. Two separate real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) assays using SYBR Green I dye and a single quantification standard containing two EBV genes, Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen-1 (EBNA-1) and BamHI fragment H rightward open reading frame-1 (BHRF-1), were developed to detect and measure absolute EBV DNA load in patients with various EBV-associated diseases. EBV DNA loads and viral capsid antigen (VCA) IgG antibody titres were also quantified on a population sample.


EBV DNA was measurable in ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) whole blood, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), plasma and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples. EBV DNA loads were detectable from 8.0 × 102 to 1.3 × 108 copies/ml in post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease (n = 5), 1.5 × 103 to 2.0 × 105 copies/ml in infectious mononucleosis (n = 7), 7.5 × 104 to 1.1 × 105 copies/ml in EBV-associated haemophagocytic syndrome (n = 1), 2.0 × 102 to 5.6 × 103 copies/ml in HIV-infected patients (n = 12), and 2.0 × 102 to 9.1 × 104 copies/ml in the population sample (n = 218). EBNA-1 and BHRF-1 DNA were detected in 11.0% and 21.6% of the population sample respectively. There was a modest correlation between VCA IgG antibody titre and BHRF-1 DNA load (rho = 0.13, p = 0.05) but not EBNA-1 DNA load (rho = 0.11, p = 0.11).


Two sensitive and specific real-time PCR assays using SYBR Green I dye and a single quantification standard containing two EBV DNA targets, were developed for the detection and measurement of EBV DNA load in a variety of clinical samples. These assays have application in the investigation of EBV-related illnesses in immunocompromised individuals.