In 1908, Oluf Bang and Vilhelm Ellerman laid the foundation for theory of oncoviruses by demonstrating that the avian erythroblastosis (a form of chicken leukaemia) could be transmitted by cell-free extracts. Since then, it has been shown very convincingly that viruses can directly cause several human cancers by various mechanisms. Epidemiological data imply that viruses are the second most important risk factor for cancer development in humans, exceeded only by tobacco consumption. Although the ability of certain viruses (hepatitis B and C, human papillomavirus, etc) to cause cancer has been time tested and proven scientifically, there are several other potential viral candidates whose role in oncogenesis is more controversial. One such controversial scenario involves the role of cytomegalovirus (CMV) in malignant gliomas, the most common form of primary brain tumour. CMV first attracted attention about a decade ago when CMV gene products were found in glioma tissue but not in normal brain. Since this initial observation, several different groups have shown an oncomodulatory effect of CMV; however, direct association between CMV infection and incidence of glioma is lacking. In this review, we will evaluate the evidence, both preclinical and clinical, regarding the possible role of CMV in gliomagenesis and maintenance. We will also critically evaluate the rationale for using antiviral drugs in the treatment of patients with glioma.
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