AIMS: Kaposi's sarcoma is a vascular tumour of uncertain pathogenesis possibly caused by an infectious agent, identified in high risk groups. Accumulating solution phase polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and seroepidemiological data suggest that a previously undescribed herpes DNA virus (human herpesvirus 8 (HHV8)) is the causative agent. Using a unique cohort of early Kaposi's sarcoma, the precise cell type infected with HHV8 in such lesions was identified to elucidate further the role of HHV8 in the pathobiology of Kaposi's sarcoma. METHODS: Sixteen cases of early Kaposi's sarcoma (derived from skin and lymph node) were assessed for the presence of HHV8 using both standard solution phase PCR and TaqMan PCR to the KS330 Bam region of HHV8. In situ amplification was also performed on a selected group in an attempt to identify the candidate infected cells. RESULTS: Using both conventional solution phase and TaqMan PCR, 87% of cases were positive. In addition, HHV8 amplicons were localised in situ to endothelial and spindle cell proliferations in early Kaposi's sarcoma. The HHV8 viral load varied from lesion to lesion. CONCLUSIONS: The presence of HHV8 in early lesions supports a role for HHV8 in the pathogenesis of Kaposi's sarcoma. Coupled with recent seroepidemiological studies, these results suggest that HHV8 is the aetiological agent of Kaposi's sarcoma. Its precise interaction with other factors known to be involved in the development of Kaposi's sarcoma, including cytokines and anti-apoptosis genes, requires elucidation.
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