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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2019 May 27;374(1773):20180300. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2018.0300.

Small size, big impact: how studies of small DNA tumour viruses revolutionized biology.

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1 Department of Genetics, Yale School of Medicine , PO Box 208005, New Haven, CT 06520-8005 , USA.
2 Yale Cancer Center , PO Box 208028, New Haven, CT 06520-8028 , USA.


Intense study of three families of small tumour viruses with double-stranded DNA genomes, carried out over 50 years, has had a profound impact on biology. The polyomaviruses and papillomaviruses have circular DNA genomes of approximately 5000 and approximately 8000 base-pairs, respectively, and thus encode only a handful of proteins. Adenoviruses have a 32 000-base-pair linear DNA genome, still far smaller than the three billion-base-pair human genome. Members of all three virus families can transform cultured cells to tumorigenicity and cause tumours in experimental animals. Several human papillomaviruses (HPV) and at least one polyomavirus are oncogenic in humans. Early analysis of these viruses, particularly the polyomavirus SV40, led to the development of many powerful experimental tools, including restriction mapping, site-directed mutagenesis, gene transfer, genome-wide sequencing and recombinant DNA. These tools have since been refined and used to study cellular genes, revolutionizing our understanding of biology. These tools were also applied to the viruses themselves. Analysis of the virus life cycle and the effect of these viruses on cells yielded important new insights into many aspects of gene expression, DNA replication, cell biology and carcinogenesis. These studies have also led to vaccination strategies to prevent infection and cancer in humans. This article is part of the theme issue 'Silent cancer agents: multi-disciplinary modelling of human DNA oncoviruses'.


HPV; SV40; T antigen; adenoviruses; papillomaviruses; polyomaviruses

[Available on 2020-05-27]

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