Viral DNA detection and RAS mutations in actinic keratosis and nonmelanoma skin cancers

Br J Dermatol. 2010 Feb 1;162(2):325-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2009.09480.x. Epub 2009 Aug 29.


Background: Actinic keratosis (AK) is a well-established precancerous skin lesion that has the potential to progress to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a locally aggressive slowly growing tumour that rarely metastasizes. A number of viruses have been proposed to play a role in the development of nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSC), but the most plausible evidence to date suggests that cutaneous human papillomavirus (HPV) is the key instigating factor.

Objectives: To evaluate the prevalence of HPV, cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus (HSV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and investigate their relationship with the presence of RAS gene mutations in cutaneous lesions obtained from nonimmunosuppressed patients.

Methods: HPV, CMV, HSV and EBV detection was performed using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in skin biopsies (26 AK, 12 SCC and 15 BCC samples) that were collected from immunocompetent patients. The RAS mutation incidence was also investigated in all cutaneous lesions by use of PCR/restriction fragment length polymorphism and direct DNA sequencing.

Results: Seventeen out of 53 (32%) skin lesions were found to be positive for HPV DNA. The highest incidences of HPV infection were five of 15 (33%) in BCC and four of 12 (33%) in SCC specimens. The HPV incidence was eight of 26 (31%) in AK and eight of 53 (15%) in normal skin tissue. Twelve out of 53 (23%) skin lesions were CMV-positive. The highest incidence of CMV infection was six of 15 (40%), observed in BCC specimens. The CMV incidence was two of 26 (8%) in AK and four of 12 (33%) in SCC. No normal skin biopsy was found to be positive for CMV. All cutaneous samples were negative for HSV and EBV DNA, as assessed by our PCR-based assays. Only three samples, one AK (4%), one BCC (6%) and one SCC (8%), were found to carry a G>T transversion at the second position of HRAS codon 12. Both HRAS mutant SCC and BCC biopsies were HPV- and CMV-positive, as well.

Conclusions: HPV DNA is detected in NMSC, AK and normal skin biopsies. Our results also indicate that CMV is involved in NMSC at higher levels than in premalignant lesions, whereas the virus was not detected in normal skin biopsies. HSV and EBV do not appear to be involved in the pathogenesis of cutaneous lesions. Moreover, we suggest that the HRAS codon 12 mutation is not a very common event in AK or NMSC. Finally, both viral infection and HRAS activation appear to represent independent factors in the aetiology of NMSC, samples of which were obtained from immunocompetent patients.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / virology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / virology*
  • DNA, Viral / isolation & purification*
  • Female
  • Genes, ras / genetics*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / genetics
  • Humans
  • Keratosis, Actinic / virology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Papillomaviridae / genetics
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Simplexvirus / genetics
  • Skin Neoplasms / virology*


  • DNA, Viral