Cancer genome studies of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-associated tumors, including lymphoepithelioma-like carcinomas (LELC) of nasopharyngeal (NPC), gastric (EBVaGC) and lung tissues, and natural killer (NK)/T-cell lymphoma (NKTCL), reveal a unique feature of genomic alterations with fewer gene mutations detected than other common cancers. It is known now that epigenetic alterations play a critical role in the pathogenesis of EBV-associated tumors. As an oncogenic virus, EBV establishes its latent and lytic infections in B-lymphoid and epithelial cells, utilizing hijacked cellular epigenetic machinery. EBV-encoded oncoproteins modulate cellular epigenetic machinery to reprogram viral and host epigenomes, especially in the early stage of infection, using host epigenetic regulators. The genome-wide epigenetic alterations further inactivate a series of tumor suppressor genes (TSG) and disrupt key cellular signaling pathways, contributing to EBV-associated cancer initiation and progression. Profiling of genome-wide CpG methylation changes (CpG methylome) have revealed a unique epigenotype of global high-grade methylation of TSGs in EBV-associated tumors. Here, we have summarized recent advances of epigenetic alterations in EBV-associated tumors (LELCs and NKTCL), highlighting the importance of epigenetic etiology in EBV-associated tumorigenesis. Epigenetic study of these EBV-associated tumors will discover valuable biomarkers for their early detection and prognosis prediction, and also develop effective epigenetic therapeutics for these cancers.
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