Human papillomavirus E6 triggers upregulation of the antiviral and cancer genomic DNA deaminase APOBEC3B

mBio. 2014 Dec 23;5(6):e02234-14. doi: 10.1128/mBio.02234-14.


Several recent studies have converged upon the innate immune DNA cytosine deaminase APOBEC3B (A3B) as a significant source of genomic uracil lesions and mutagenesis in multiple human cancers, including those of the breast, head/neck, cervix, bladder, lung, ovary, and other tissues. A3B is upregulated in these tumor types relative to normal tissues, but the mechanism is unclear. Because A3B also has antiviral activity in multiple systems and is a member of the broader innate immune response, we tested the hypothesis that human papillomavirus (HPV) infection causes A3B upregulation. We found that A3B mRNA expression and enzymatic activity were upregulated following transfection of a high-risk HPV genome and that this effect was abrogated by inactivation of E6. Transduction experiments showed that the E6 oncoprotein alone was sufficient to cause A3B upregulation, and a panel of high-risk E6 proteins triggered higher A3B levels than did a panel of low-risk or noncancer E6 proteins. Knockdown experiments in HPV-positive cell lines showed that endogenous E6 is required for A3B upregulation. Analyses of publicly available head/neck cancer data further support this relationship, as A3B levels are higher in HPV-positive cancers than in HPV-negative cancers. Taken together with the established role for high-risk E6 in functional inactivation of TP53 and published positive correlations in breast cancer between A3B upregulation and genetic inactivation of TP53, our studies suggest a model in which high-risk HPV E6, possibly through functional inactivation of TP53, causes derepression of A3B gene transcription. This would lead to a mutator phenotype that explains the observed cytosine mutation biases in HPV-positive head/neck and cervical cancers.

Importance: The innate immune DNA cytosine deaminase APOBEC3B (A3B) accounts for a large proportion of somatic mutations in cervical and head/neck cancers, but nothing is known about the mechanism responsible for its upregulation in these tumor types. Almost all cervical carcinomas and large proportions of head/neck tumors are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Here, we establish a mechanistic link between HPV infection and A3B upregulation. The E6 oncoprotein of high-risk, but not low-risk, HPV types triggers A3B upregulation, supporting a model in which TP53 inactivation causes a derepression of A3B gene transcription and elevated A3B enzyme levels. This virus-induced mutator phenotype provides a mechanistic explanation for A3B signature mutations observed in HPV-positive head/neck and cervical carcinomas and may also help to account for the preferential cancer predisposition caused by high-risk HPV isolates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytidine Deaminase / biosynthesis*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / enzymology
  • Keratinocytes / virology
  • Minor Histocompatibility Antigens
  • Mutation
  • Oncogene Proteins, Viral / metabolism*
  • Papillomaviridae / physiology*
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism*
  • Transduction, Genetic
  • Transfection
  • Up-Regulation


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • E6 protein, Human papillomavirus type 16
  • E6 protein, Human papillomavirus type 18
  • Minor Histocompatibility Antigens
  • Oncogene Proteins, Viral
  • Repressor Proteins
  • APOBEC3B protein, human
  • Cytidine Deaminase