A growing subgroup of oropharyngeal cancers is initiated by infection with high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPVs). In parallel to mounting epidemiological evidence, solid experimental data support a causal association between HPV and a subset of oropharyngeal cancers. This Review summarizes the main events of the HPV life cycle, the functions of the viral oncoproteins, and the implications of HPV infection on their hosts, with an emphasis on carcinogenic mechanisms in oropharyngeal cancer. The demonstration that HPVs have a role in head and neck carcinogenesis has fuelled the expectation that HPV-targeted therapeutic strategies may prove curative in these cancers.
Keywords: HPV; Notch; Oropharynx cancer; Tumor suppressor pathways; Wnt.
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