Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) is a γ-herpesvirus which infects over 90% of the adult human population. Most notably, this virus causes infectious mononucleosis but it is also associated with cancers such as Hodgkin and Burkitt lymphoma. EBV is a species-specific virus and has been studied in many animal models, including nonhuman primates, guinea pigs, humanized mice, and tree shrews. However, none of these animal models are considered the “gold standard” for EBV research. Recently, rabbits have emerged as a viable alternative model, as they are susceptible to EBV infection. In addition, the EBV infection progresses after immune suppression with cyclosporine A (CsA), modeling the reactivation of EBV after latency. We sought to refine this model for acute or active EBV infections by performing antibody-mediated depletion of certain immune subsets in rabbits. Fourteen 16 to 20-wk old, NZW rabbits were intravenously inoculated with EBV and concurrently treated with either anti-CD4 T-cell antibody, anti-pan-T-cell antibody (anti CD45), CSA, or, as a control, anti-HPV antibody. Rabbits that received the depleting antibodies were treated with CsA 3 times at a dose of 15 mg/kg SC once per day for 4 d starting at the time of EBV inoculation then the dose was increased to 20 mg/kg SC twice weekly for 2 wk. Weights, temperatures, and clinical signs were monitored, and rabbits were anesthetized once weekly for blood collection. When compared with the control group, anti-CD4- treated rabbits had fewer clinical signs and displayed higher levels of viral DNA via qPCR in splenocytes; however, flow cytometry results showed only a partial depletion of CD4 T-cells. Treatment with anti-pan-T-cell antibody did not result in noticeable T-cell depletion. These data suggest the EBV-infected rabbit is a promising model for testing antiviral medications and prophylactic vaccines for EBV.
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