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Virology. 2004 Jul 1;324(2):483-92.

The human papillomavirus-18 genome is efficiently targeted by cellular DNA methylation.

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Laboratory for DNA Repair and DNA-Methylation in Chemical Carcinogenesis, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Singapore.


Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) infect epithelia, including the simple and the squamous epithelia of the cervix, where they can cause cancer and precursor lesions. The molecular events leading from asymptomatic HPV infections to neoplasia are poorly understood. There is evidence that progression is modulated by transcriptional mechanisms that control HPV gene expression. Here, we report the frequent methylation of HPV-18 genomes in cell culture and in situ. DNA methylation is generally known to lead to transcriptional repression due to chromatin changes. We investigated two cell lines derived from cervical cancers, namely, C4-1, which contains one HPV-18 genome, and different clones of HeLa, with 50 HPV-18 genomes. By restriction cleavage, we detected strong methylation of the L1 gene and absence of methylation of parts of the long control region (LCR). A 3-kb segment of the HPV-18 genomes downstream of the oncogenes was deleted in both cell lines. Bisulfite sequencing showed that in C4-1 cells and two HeLa clones, 18 of the 19 CpG residues in the 1.2-kb terminal part of the L1 gene were methylated, whereas a third HeLa clone had only eight methylated CpG groups, indicating changes of the methylation pattern after the establishment of the HeLa cell line. In the same four clones, none of the 12 CpG residues that overlapped with the enhancer and promoter was methylated. In six HPV-18 containing cancers and five smears from asymptomatic patients, most of the CpG residues in the L1 gene were methylated. There was complete or partial methylation, respectively, of the HPV enhancer in three of the cancers, and lack of methylation in the remaining eight samples. The promoter sequences were methylated in three of the six cancers and four of the six smears, and unmethylated elsewhere. Our data show that epithelial cells efficiently target HPV-18 genomes for DNA methylation, which may affect late and early gene transcription.

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