YAP1 activation by human papillomavirus E7 promotes basal cell identity in squamous epithelia

Elife. 2022 Feb 16;11:e75466. doi: 10.7554/eLife.75466.


Persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection of stratified squamous epithelial cells causes nearly 5% of cancer cases worldwide. HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers harbor few mutations in the Hippo signaling pathway compared to HPV-negative cancers at the same anatomical site, prompting the hypothesis that an HPV-encoded protein inactivates the Hippo pathway and activates the Hippo effector yes-associated protein (YAP1). The HPV E7 oncoprotein is required for HPV infection and for HPV-mediated oncogenic transformation. We investigated the effects of HPV oncoproteins on YAP1 and found that E7 activates YAP1, promoting YAP1 nuclear localization in basal epithelial cells. YAP1 activation by HPV E7 required that E7 binds and degrades the tumor suppressor protein tyrosine phosphatase non-receptor type 14 (PTPN14). E7 required YAP1 transcriptional activity to extend the lifespan of primary keratinocytes, indicating that YAP1 activation contributes to E7 carcinogenic activity. Maintaining infection in basal cells is critical for HPV persistence, and here we demonstrate that YAP1 activation causes HPV E7 expressing cells to be retained in the basal compartment of stratified epithelia. We propose that YAP1 activation resulting from PTPN14 inactivation is an essential, targetable activity of the HPV E7 oncoprotein relevant to HPV infection and carcinogenesis.

Keywords: HPV; PTPN14; YAP1; cancer biology; cell fate; human; infectious disease; microbiology; papillomavirus; stem cell; viruses.

Plain language summary

The ‘epithelial’ cells that cover our bodies are in a constant state of turnover. Every few weeks, the outermost layers die and are replaced by new cells from the layers below. For scientists, this raises a difficult question. Cells infected by human papillomaviruses, often known as HPV, can become cancerous over years or even decades. How do infected cells survive while the healthy cells around them mature and get replaced? One clue could lie in PTPN14, a human protein which many papillomaviruses eliminate using their viral E7 protein; this mechanism could be essential for the virus to replicate and cause cancer. To find out the impact of losing PTPN14, Hatterschide et al. used human epithelial cells to make three-dimensional models of infected tissues. These experiments showed that, when papillomaviruses destroy PTPN14, a human protein called YAP1 turns on in the lowest, most long-lived layer of the tissue. Cells in which YAP1 is activated survive while those that carry the inactive version mature and die. This suggests that papillomaviruses turn on YAP1 to remain in tissues for long periods. Papillomaviruses cause about five percent of all human cancers. Finding ways to stop them from activating YAP1 has the potential to prevent disease. Overall, the research by Hatterschide et al. also sheds light on other epithelial cancers which are not caused by viruses.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alphapapillomavirus* / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Papillomaviridae
  • Papillomavirus E7 Proteins / genetics
  • Papillomavirus E7 Proteins / metabolism
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / genetics
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases, Non-Receptor / genetics
  • YAP-Signaling Proteins


  • Papillomavirus E7 Proteins
  • YAP-Signaling Proteins
  • YAP1 protein, human
  • PTPN14 protein, human
  • Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases, Non-Receptor

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE121906
  • GEO/GSE150201
  • GEO/GSE147482