Co-presence of human papillomaviruses and Epstein-Barr virus is linked with advanced tumor stage: a tissue microarray study in head and neck cancer patients

Head and Neck Cancer

Cancer Cell Int. 2020 Aug 3;20:361. doi: 10.1186/s12935-020-01348-y. eCollection 2020.


BACKGROUND: Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), known oncoviruses, can be co-present and cooperate in the initiation and/or progression of human carcinomas, including head and neck. Based on this fact, we recently reported the prevalence of both HPVs and EBV in cervical and breast cancers.

METHODS: We herein explore for the first time the co-prevalence of high-risk HPVs and EBV in 98 head and neck (HN) squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) tissues from Bosnian patients using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and immunohistochemistry (IHC) analysis, as well as tissue microarray methodology.

RESULTS: The majority of these cancer tissue cases were from the oral cavity (68%). We found that high-risk HPVs and EBV are co-present in 34.7% of the SCC samples; with a significant correlation between the various HPV types and EBV co-incidence (p = 0.03). Our data showed that 30.8% of oral SCCs are positive for E6 oncoprotein of high-risk HPVs and 44.6% are positive for LMP1 of EBV. The most commonly expressed HPVs in our HNSCC samples include HPV types 16, 18, 45 and 58. Additionally, 37.5% of oral SCCs are positive for both HPVs and EBV, with statistically significant association between high-risk HPV types and EBV (p < 0.05). More importantly, our data revealed that the co-presence of HPV and EBV is strongly correlated with advanced tumor stage (p = 0.035).

CONCLUSION: In this study we show that HPV and EBV oncoviruses are co-present in HNSCC, particularly in oral cancer, where they can cooperate in the initiation and/or progression of this cancer. Thus, further studies are necessary to elucidate the mechanism of this cooperation.