Background: Based on the well-recognized etiological role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in cervical, anogenital and oropharyngeal carcinogenesis, a potential role of HPV in colorectal carcinogenesis has been suggested. For that reason, the aim of the present study was to investigate the presence of HPV DNA in colorectal carcinomas (CRC) and to study overexpression of p16INK4A as a marker for the presence of an active HPV oncoprotein E7. These findings were correlated with clinical and pathological prognostic factors of CRC.
Methods: The presence of HPV was assessed using a multiplex PCR system of 10 non-biotinylated primers. The amplified fragments of HPV positive samples were further analyzed by a highly sensitive, broad spectrum SPF10 PCR and subsequently genotyped using reverse hybridization in a line probe assay. P16INK4A protein expression was investigated in a subset of 90 (30 HPV positive and 60 HPV negative) CRC samples by immunohistochemistry.
Results: HPV DNA was found in 14.2% of the CRC samples with HPV16 as the most prevalent type. No significant differences in clinical and pathological variables were found between HPV positive and negative CRCs, except for age. HPV positive patients were significantly younger (p = 0.05). There was no significant correlation between the presence of HPV and overexpression of p16INK4A (p = 0.325).
Conclusions: In conclusion, the presence of oncogenic HPV DNA in a small cohort of CRC samples may suggest that HPV may be involved in the carcinogenesis of some CRC. However, contrary to what has been observed in head and neck squamous cell cancer and cancer of the uterine cervix, p16INK4A does not seem to be a surrogate marker for an active HPV infection in CRC. Therefore, further functional analyses are necessary to elucidate the role of HPV in CRC.