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Int J Cancer. 2003 Nov 10;107(3):394-400.

A subset of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas exhibits integration of HPV 16/18 DNA and overexpression of p16INK4A and p53 in the absence of mutations in p53 exons 5-8.

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Research Institute GROW, Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery, University Hospital Maastricht, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


Besides well-known risk factors such as tobacco use and alcohol consumption, oncogenic human papillomavirus (HPV) infection also has recently been suggested to promote head and neck tumorigenesis. HPV is known to cause cancer by inactivation of cell cycle regulators p53 and pRb via expression of viral oncoproteins E6 and E7. This indicates that p53 mutations are not a prerequisite in HPV-induced tumor development. However, discrepancy exists with respect to the frequency of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) harboring DNA of oncogenic HPV and the fraction of these tumors showing p53 mutations. In our study, we examined the frequency of HNSCC demonstrating HPV 16/18 integration as identified by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and investigated their p53 (mutation) status by immunohistochemistry and single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis of exons 5-8. Paraffin-embedded, archival biopsy material from 27 premalignant mucosal lesions and 47 cases of HNSCC were analyzed. Ten of the 47 (21%) HNSCC unequivocally exhibited HPV 16 integration, including 8 of 12 (67%) tonsillar carcinomas. This is supported by the immunohistochemical detection of p16(INK4A) overexpression in all 10 HPV-positive tumors. Although FISH is considered to be less sensitive than PCR-based methods for HPV detection, our data clearly demonstrate clonal association of HPV with these tumors, as illustrated by the presence of integrated HPV 16 in both the primary tumor and their metastases in 2 patients. In contrast, HPV 16/18 DNA could not be detected in the premalignant lesions. In 30 of 47 (64%), HNSCC accumulation of p53 was observed, including 8 of the 10 HPV-positive carcinomas. However, in none of the latter cases could mutations in exons 5-8 be identified, except for a polymorphism in codon 213 of exon 6 in one patient. Evaluation of clinical data revealed a significant inverse relation between tobacco use with or without alcohol consumption, and HPV positivity of the tumors.

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