Only a minority of those exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV) develop HPV-related cervical and oropharyngeal cancer. Because host immunity affects infection and progression to cancer, we tested the hypothesis that genetic variation in immune-related genes is a determinant of susceptibility to oropharyngeal cancer and other HPV-associated cancers by performing a multitier integrative computational analysis with oropharyngeal cancer data from a head and neck cancer genome-wide association study (GWAS). Independent analyses, including single-gene, gene-interconnectivity, protein-protein interaction, gene expression, and pathway analysis, identified immune genes and pathways significantly associated with oropharyngeal cancer. TGFβR1, which intersected all tiers of analysis and thus selected for validation, replicated significantly in the head and neck cancer GWAS limited to HPV-seropositive cases and an independent cervical cancer GWAS. The TGFβR1 containing p38-MAPK pathway was significantly associated with oropharyngeal cancer and cervical cancer, and TGFβR1 was overexpressed in oropharyngeal cancer, cervical cancer, and HPV(+) head and neck cancer tumors. These concordant analyses implicate TGFβR1 signaling as a process dysregulated across HPV-related cancers. This study demonstrates that genetic variation in immune-related genes is associated with susceptibility to oropharyngeal cancer and implicates TGFβR1/TGFβ signaling in the development of both oropharyngeal cancer and cervical cancer. Better understanding of the immunogenetic basis of susceptibility to HPV-associated cancers may provide insight into host/virus interactions and immune processes dysregulated in the minority of HPV-exposed individuals who progress to cancer.
©2014 American Association for Cancer Research.