The HIV epidemic has challenged our previous understanding of endemic Burkitt's lymphoma. Despite the strong association of Burkitt's lymphoma and HIV infection in the Developed world, and against previous postulations that the cancer is due to immunosupression among African children, the HIV epidemic in the Malaria belt has not been associated with a corresponding increase in incidence of childhood Burkitt's lymphoma. Even outside the context of HIV infection, there is substantial evidence for a strong but skewed immune response towards a TH2 response in genesis of Burkitt lymphoma.
Presentation of the hypothesis
Rather than a global and/or profound immunosupression, the final common pathway in genesis of Burkitt's lymphoma is the dysregulation of the immune response towards a TH2 response dominated by B-lymphocytes, and the concomitant suppression of the TH1 cell-mediated immune surveillance, driven by various viral/parasitic/bacterial infections.
Testing the hypothesis
Case control studies comparing TH2 and TH1 immune responses in Burkitt lymphoma of different etiological types (sporadic, HIV-related, endemic and post-transplant) to demonstrate significant dominance of TH2 immune response in presence of poor CMI response as a common factor. Immunological profiling to evaluate differences between immune states that are associated (such as recurrent Malaria infection) and those that are not associated (such as severe protein-energy malnutrition) with Burkitt lymphoma. Prospective cohorts profiling chronology of immunological events leading to Burkitt lymphoma in children with EBV infection.
Implications of the hypothesis
The dysregulation of the immune response may be the missing link in our understanding of Burkitt lymphomagenesis. This will provide possibilities for determination of risk and for control of development of malignancy in individuals/populations exposed to the relevant infections.