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Papillomaviruses and cancer: from basic studies to clinical application

Nature Reviews Cancer volume 2, pages 342350 (2002) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Links between human papillomaviruses (HPVs) and cervical cancer were first suspected almost 30 years ago. DNA of specific HPV types has since been found in almost all cervical cancer biopsies. HPV oncogenes that are expressed in these cells are involved in their transformation and immortalization, and are required for the progression towards malignancy. Epidemiological studies have underlined that HPVs are the main aetiological factor for cervical cancer. But how has this knowledge been translated into the clinic to allow the prevention, screening and treatment of cervical cancer?

Key points

  • High-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) genotypes cause cervical cancer. The same types also seem to be responsible for other anogenital, and a subset of head and neck, cancers.

  • Viral oncogene transcription and oncoprotein expression are controlled by cellular signalling cascades.

  • Expression of specific viral oncoproteins, E6 and E7, is required for maintaining the malignant growth of cervical cancer cells, specifically by inhibiting the tumour suppressors p53 and RB.

  • The detection of viral DNA and cellular proteins that are induced by high-risk HPV allow new approaches to cervical cancer screening to be taken.

  • Preventive and therapeutic vaccines against HPV infections are, at present, in clinical trials. The prospects for efficient prevention are excellent.

  • Global application of such vaccines could contribute significantly to reducing the human cancer burden.

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  1. Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, Im Neuenheimer Feld 280, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany. zurhausen@dkfz-heidelberg.de

    • Harald zur Hausen

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Glossary

KOILOCYTE

A papillomavirus particle-producing cell that acquires an 'owl-eye' shape due to the shrinkage of the nucleus, and a translucent halo that surrounds the nucleus.

DYSPLASIA

An early stage in cancer progression, which is characterized by increased cell proliferation and architectural disarray at the tissue level.

LARYNGEAL PAPILLOMA

A benign tumour of the larynx.

EPISOME

An independent DNA element, such as a plasmid, that can replicate extrachromosomally or that can be maintained by integration into the genome of the host.

HUMORAL IMMUNE REPONSE

A specific immune response, directed against a pathogen, that is mediated by antibodies.

CELLULAR IMMUNE RESPONSE

An adaptive immune response, directed against a pathogen, that is mediated by antigen-specific lymphocytes.

SYNCARCINOGENIC EFFECT

Synergism between two factors, each of them able to induce cancer.

IATROGENIC TRANSMISSION

Transmission of infections by a physician.

VIRUS-LIKE PARTICLE

(VLP). Empty shell of a virus particle, without genetic material, that is produced by genetic engineering.

POLYVALENT VACCINE

A vaccine that binds to, or generates an immune response against, more than one thing. In this case, several human papillomavirus types.

ACYCLIC NUCLEOSIDE PHOSPHONATE

A drug that blocks the replication of several virus types.

IMMUNOMODULATORY DRUG

A drug that modifies the immune system.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nrc798

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