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J Virol. 2012 Nov;86(22):12384-96. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01512-12. Epub 2012 Sep 5.

The Asian-American E6 variant protein of human papillomavirus 16 alone is sufficient to promote immortalization, transformation, and migration of primary human foreskin keratinocytes.

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Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute, Probe Development & Biomarker Exploration, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.


We examined how well the human papillomavirus (HPV) E6 oncogene can function in the absence of the E7 oncogene during the carcinogenic process in human keratinocytes using a common HPV variant strongly associated with cervical cancer: the Asian-American E6 variant (AAE6). This E6 variant is 20 times more frequently detected in cervical cancer than the prototype European E6 variant, as evidenced by independent epidemiological data. Using cell culture and cell-based functional assays, we assessed how this variant can perform crucial carcinogenesis steps compared to the prototype E6 variant. The ability to immortalize and transform primary human foreskin keratinocytes (PHFKs) to acquire resilient phenotypes and the ability to promote cell migration were evaluated. The immortalization capability was assayed based on population doublings, number of passages, surpassing mortality stages 1 and 2, human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) expression, and the ability to overcome G(1) arrest via p53 degradation. Transformation and migration efficiency were analyzed using a combination of functional cell-based assays. We observed that either AAE6 or prototype E6 proteins alone were sufficient to immortalize PHFKs, although AAE6 was more potent in doing so. The AAE6 variant protein alone pushed PHFKs through transformation and significantly increased their migration ability over that of the E6 prototype. Our findings are in line with epidemiological data that the AA variant of HPV16 confers an increased risk over the European prototype for cervical cancer, as evidenced by a superior immortalization, transformation, and metastatic potential.

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