Journal of virology

APOBEC3A functions as a restriction factor of human papillomavirus.

PMID 25355878


Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are small DNA viruses causally associated with benign warts and multiple cancers, including cervical and head-and-neck cancers. While the vast majority of people are exposed to HPV, most instances of infection are cleared naturally. However, the intrinsic host defense mechanisms that block the early establishment of HPV infections remain mysterious. Several antiviral cytidine deaminases of the human APOBEC3 (hA3) family have been identified as potent viral DNA mutators. While editing of HPV genomes in benign and premalignant cervical lesions has been demonstrated, it remains unclear whether hA3 proteins can directly inhibit HPV infection. Interestingly, recent studies revealed that HPV-positive cervical and head-and-neck cancers exhibited higher rates of hA3 mutation signatures than most HPV-negative cancers. Here, we report that hA3A and hA3B expression levels are highly upregulated in HPV-positive keratinocytes and cervical tissues in early stages of cancer progression, potentially through a mechanism involving the HPV E7 oncoprotein. HPV16 virions assembled in the presence of hA3A, but not in the presence of hA3B or hA3C, have significantly decreased infectivity compared to HPV virions assembled without hA3A or with a catalytically inactive mutant, hA3A/E72Q. Importantly, hA3A knockdown in human keratinocytes results in a significant increase in HPV infectivity. Collectively, our findings suggest that hA3A acts as a restriction factor against HPV infection, but the induction of this restriction mechanism by HPV may come at a cost to the host by promoting cancer mutagenesis. Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are highly prevalent and potent human pathogens that cause >5% of all human cancers, including cervical and head-and-neck cancers. While the majority of people become infected with HPV, only 10 to 20% of infections are established as persistent infections. This suggests the existence of intrinsic host defense mechanisms that inhibit viral persistence. Using a robust method to produce infectious HPV virions, we demonstrate that hA3A, but not hA3B or hA3C, can significantly inhibit HPV infectivity. Moreover, hA3A and hA3B were coordinately induced in HPV-positive clinical specimens during cancer progression, likely through an HPV E7 oncoprotein-dependent mechanism. Interestingly, HPV-positive cervical and head-and-neck cancer specimens were recently shown to harbor significant amounts of hA3 mutation signatures. Our findings raise the intriguing possibility that the induction of this host restriction mechanism by HPV may also trigger hA3A- and hA3B-induced cancer mutagenesis.