Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infects greater than 90% of humans, is recognized as a significant comorbidity with HIV/AIDS, and is an etiologic agent for some human cancers. The critically endangered mountain gorilla population was suspected of infection with an EBV-like virus based on serology and infant histopathology similar to pulmonary reactive lymphoid hyperplasia (PRLH), a condition associated with EBV in HIV-infected children. To further examine the presence of EBV or an EBV-like virus in mountain gorillas, we conducted the first population-wide survey of oral samples for an EBV-like virus in a nonhuman great ape. We discovered that mountain gorillas are widely infected (n = 143/332) with a specific strain of lymphocryptovirus 1 (GbbLCV-1). Fifty-two percent of infant mountain gorillas were orally shedding GbbLCV-1, suggesting primary infection during this stage of life, similar to what is seen in humans in less developed countries. We then identified GbbLCV-1 in post-mortem infant lung tissues demonstrating histopathological lesions consistent with PRLH, suggesting primary infection with GbbLCV-1 is associated with PRLH in infants. Together, our findings demonstrate that mountain gorilla's infection with GbbLCV-1 could provide valuable information for human disease in a natural great ape setting and have potential conservation implications in this critically endangered species.
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