Reduced apoptotic levels in squamous but not basal cell carcinomas correlates with detection of cutaneous human papillomavirus

Br J Cancer. 2002 Jul 29;87(3):319-23. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6600431.


We have investigated the apoptotic levels and expression of the apoptotic inducer Bak in non-melanoma skin cancers. Squamous cell carcinomas of known human papillomavirus status from immunocompetent patients were analysed for the expression of the Bak protein, and the expression profile was compared both to the presence of apoptotic cells and the proliferation marker Ki-67. We demonstrate an inverse correlation between human papillomavirus positivity and Bak expression in squamous cell carcinomas, with concomitantly fewer apoptoic cells being detected in the human papillomavirus positive tumours. Bak expression was not observed in basal cell carcinomas irrespective of human papillomavirus status, suggesting that Bak only plays a role in signalling apoptosis in squamous, but not basal, cell cancers. No differences were observed in the proliferation rates between papillomavirus positive and negative squamous cell tumours. However, a significant decrease in the number of apoptotic cells was observed in human papillomavirus-positive squamous cell carcinomas which suggests that the virus may have significantly altered the relationship between proliferation and apoptosis in a proportion of these tumours.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / analysis
  • Humans
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Ki-67 Antigen / analysis
  • Membrane Proteins / analysis
  • Papillomaviridae / isolation & purification*
  • Skin / virology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / virology
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein


  • BAK1 protein, human
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Membrane Proteins
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein