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Chromatin & Epstein Barr Virus
Edward Gershburg, Ph.D., studies chromatin changes in virus infection

Clinical Research at SIU SOM

Edward Gershburg, Ph.D., assistant professor of medical microbiology, immunology and cell biology and a research member of the Simmons Cancer Institute at SIU, is studying how chromatin, a DNA-protein complex, might change during infection by Epstein-Barr virus. Dr. Gershburg received a one-year grant from the American Cancer Society, Illinois Division, to study this phenomenon.

Dr. Gershburg has studied Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) for 12 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, EBV, a member of the herpesvirus family, is one of the most common human viruses. In the United States, as many as 95 percent of adults between 35 and 40 years of age have been infected. EBV is associated with several rare types of cancer.

Studies have found that many viruses, including EBV, may alter chromatin, a higher-order structure comprised of DNA compacted with the aid of proteins (mainly histones) in the nucleus of eukaryotic cells. “DNA is where cells store genetic information — histones mediate access to this information,” Dr. Gershburg says.

Dr. Gershburg’s laboratory found a viral protein that can chemically modify (phosphorylate) histones. He believes that this EBV factor may play a role in orchestrating chromatin remodeling, which could be necessary for establishing a long-term viral infection. He also found that this EBV protein is associated with chromatin and causes drastic changes in chromatin structure. He hypothesizes that such changes may lead to cell transformation and possibly cancer development. The one-year grant will test this possibility.

Results of this study will advance scientists’ understanding of how chromatin is regulated and the mechanisms of viral latency, both of which contribute to cancer development and progression. One future goal could be to inhibit the viral protein that changes chromatin to keep chromatin properly functioning.

Dr. Gershburg joined the SIU faculty in 2007. He earned his doctoral degree in virology at Tel-Aviv University in Israel (1999) and his master’s degree in microbiology at St. Petersburg State University in Russia (1992).