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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Induction of dormancy in hypoxic human papillomavirus-positive cancer cells.


PMID 28115701

Abstract

Oncogenic human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are closely linked to major human malignancies, including cervical and head and neck cancers. It is widely assumed that HPV-positive cancer cells are under selection pressure to continuously express the viral E6/E7 oncogenes, that their intracellular p53 levels are reconstituted on E6/E7 repression, and that E6/E7 inhibition phenotypically results in cellular senescence. Here we show that hypoxic conditions, as are often found in subregions of cervical and head and neck cancers, enable HPV-positive cancer cells to escape from these regulatory principles: E6/E7 is efficiently repressed, yet, p53 levels do not increase. Moreover, E6/E7 repression under hypoxia does not result in cellular senescence, owing to hypoxia-associated impaired mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling via the inhibitory REDD1/TSC2 axis. Instead, a reversible growth arrest is induced that can be overcome by reoxygenation. Impairment of mTOR signaling also interfered with the senescence response of hypoxic HPV-positive cancer cells toward prosenescent chemotherapy in vitro. Collectively, these findings indicate that hypoxic HPV-positive cancer cells can induce a reversible state of dormancy, with decreased viral antigen synthesis and increased therapeutic resistance, and may serve as reservoirs for tumor recurrence on reoxygenation.

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