DNA Methylation and HPV-Associated Head and Neck Cancer

Microorganisms. 2021 Apr 10;9(4):801. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms9040801.


Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), especially oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC), has recently been found to be significantly associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The incidence of OPSCC has been increasing and surpassed the number of cervical cancer cases in the United States. Although HPV-associated OPSCC has a relatively better prognosis than HPV-negative cancer, approximately 20% of HPV-associated HNSCC patients show a poor prognosis or therapeutic response, and the molecular mechanism behind this outcome in the intermediate-risk group is yet to be elucidated. These biological differences between HPV-associated HNSCC and HPV-negative HNSCC are partly explained by the differences in mutation patterns. However, recent reports have revealed that epigenetic dysregulation, such as dysregulated DNA methylation, is a strikingly common pathological feature of human malignancy. Notably, viral infections can induce aberrant DNA methylation, leading to carcinogenesis, and HPV-associated HNSCC cases tend to harbor a higher amount of aberrantly methylated DNA than HPV-negative HNSCC cases. Furthermore, recent comprehensive genome-wide DNA-methylation analyses with large cohorts have revealed that a sub-group of HPV-associated HNSCC correlates with increased DNA methylation. Accordingly, in this review, we provide an overview of the relationship between DNA methylation and HPV-associated HNSCC.

Keywords: DNA methylation; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; human papillomavirus; oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review