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Pathobiology. 2018;85(3):169-178. doi: 10.1159/000479007. Epub 2017 Nov 23.

APOBEC3A Expression in Penile Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

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Section of Molecular Urooncology, Department of Urology, Medical Faculty Heidelberg, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.



APOBECs (apolipoprotein B mRNA-editing catalytic polypeptides) are cytidine deaminases that have been implicated in the host defense against viruses by blocking viral replication. They have also been shown to play a role in genome hypermutation in several human cancers. An APOBEC3 hypermutation signature has been discovered in cervical cancer, which is intimately associated with infection by high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPVs). At the same time, HPV genomes themselves are subject to DNA editing by APOBECs. Similar to cervical cancer, a proportion of penile squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) is etiologically driven by high-risk HPVs, but very little is known about the role of APOBECs in penile SCC development and progression.


A series of 34 penile SCCs was analyzed for the expression of APOBEC3A protein by immunohistochemistry. HPV genotyping was carried out using a bead-based multiplex hybridization assay preceded by BSGP5+6+ primer-based amplification.


We found a frequent reduction of APOBEC3A protein expression in the invasive parts of the majority of HPV-negative penile SCCs. In contrast, the majority of HPV-positive penile SCCs retained APOBEC3A expression during malignant progression.


Our results suggest that APOBEC3A expression is downregulated during progression towards invasiveness in HPV-negative penile SCC, but maintained in HPV-positive penile SCC. How high-risk HPV-infected tumor cells tolerate high APOBEC3A, which appears to exert tumor suppressive functions in HPV-negative penile SCCs, remains to be elucidated.


APOBECs; Human papillomaviruses; Penile squamous cell carcinomas

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