Loss of gene function as a consequence of human papillomavirus DNA integration



Integration of the human papillomavirus (HPV) genome into the host chromatin is a characteristic step in cervical carcinogenesis. Integration ensures constitutive expression of the viral oncogenes E6 and E7 which drive carcinogenesis. However, integration has also an impact on host DNA. There is increasing evidence that integration not only occurs in fragile sites and translocation breakpoints but also in transcriptionally active regions. Indeed, a substantial number of integration sites actually disrupt host genes and may thereby affect gene expression. No doubt, even subtle changes in gene expression may influence the cell phenotype but small fold changes are difficult to quantify reliably in biopsy material. We have, therefore, addressed the question whether a complete loss of gene function that is insertional mutagenesis in combination with deletion or epigenetic modification of the second allele is also a phenomenon pertinent to cervical cancer. Out of the ten preselected squamous cell carcinomas analyzed, all viral integration sites were located within the intron sequences of known genes, giving rise to viral–cellular fusion transcripts of sense orientation. Moreover, for two tumors, we provide evidence for complete functional loss of the gene affected by HPV integration. Of particular note is that one of the genes involved is the recently described novel tumor suppressor gene castor zinc finger 1. Although our study provides no functional proof that any of the genes affected by HPV integration are causally involved in the transformation process, an exhaustive systematic look at the role of insertional mutagenesis in cervical cancer appears to be warranted.