Human papillomavirus-DNA loads in actinic keratoses exceed those in non-melanoma skin cancers

J Invest Dermatol. 2005 Jul;125(1):93-7. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-202X.2005.23733.x.


Recent studies suggest a role of cutaneous human papillomaviruses (HPV) in non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) development. In this study viral DNA loads of six frequent HPV types were determined by quantitative, type-specific real-time-PCR (Q-PCR) in actinic keratoses (AK, n=26), NMSC (n=31), perilesional tissue (n=22), and metastases of squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) (n=8) which were previously shown to be positive for HPV5, 8, 15, 20, 24, or 36. HPV-DNA loads in AK, (partially microdissected) NMSC, and perilesional skin ranged between one HPV-DNA copy per 0.02 and 14,200 cell equivalents (median: 1 HPV-DNA copy per 344 cell equivalents; n=48). In 32 of the 79 HPV-positive skin biopsies and in seven of the eight metastases viral loads were even below the detection limit of Q-PCR. Low viral loads in NMSC were confirmed by in situ-hybridization showing only a few HPV-DNA-positive nuclei per section. Viral loads in SCC, basal cell carcinomas, and perilesional tissue were similar. But, viral loads found in AK were significantly higher than in SCC (p=0.035). Our data suggest that persistence of HPV is not necessary for the maintenance of the malignant phenotype of individual NMSC cells. Although a passenger state cannot be excluded, the data are compatible with a carcinogenic role of HPV in early steps of tumor development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / virology*
  • DNA Probes, HPV*
  • DNA, Viral / analysis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Keratosis / pathology
  • Keratosis / virology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Papillomaviridae / isolation & purification*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Skin Neoplasms / virology*
  • Viral Load*


  • DNA Probes, HPV
  • DNA, Viral