CRVAW Faculty Journal Articles


Human Papillomavirus Type 16 E6 and E7 Cooperate to Increase Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) mRNA Levels, Overcoming Mechanisms by which Excessive EGFR Signaling Shortens the Life Span of Normal Human Keratinocytes


Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) levels are dramatically increased in human keratinocytes (HKc) immortalized with full-length human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV16) DNA (HKc/HPV16), but increases in EGFR levels actually precede immortalization. In some normal HKc strains, acute expression of HPV16 E6 (but not HPV16 E5, HPV16 E7, or HPV6 E6) from LXSN retroviral vectors produced an increase in EGFR mRNA levels detectable at 24 h and stable for up to 10 days after infection. However, about one-half of the individual normal HKc strains we analyzed proved unresponsive to E6 induction of EGFR mRNA despite the robust expression of E6 and degradation of p53. E6 responsiveness of normal HKc strains correlated inversely with initial EGFR levels: although HKc strains expressing relatively low basal EGFR levels grew poorly and tolerated the infection protocol with difficulty, they responded to E6 with an increase in EGFR mRNA and protein and with robust proliferation. However, those HKc strains expressing high basal EGFR levels grew well, but did not respond to E6 with increased EGFR levels or with proliferation. Immunostaining of paraffin-embedded foreskin tissue for the EGFR confirmed that there is an intrinsic interindividual variability of EGFR expression in HKc. These results prompted us to investigate the effects of overexpression of the EGFR in normal HKc. Infection of normal HKc with a LXSN retrovirus expressing the full-length human EGFR cDNA resulted in a dramatic reduction in growth rate and a shorter life span. Although acute expression (1–10 days after infection) of HPV16 E7 alone did not induce the EGFR, acute expression of E6 and E7 together increased EGFR levels in normal HKc unresponsive to E6 alone. Also, HKc infected with E7 alone expressed increased EGFR levels at early stages of extended life span (at passage 9 after infection), and HKc immortalized by HPV16 E7 alone expressed EGFR levels comparable with those of E6/E7-immortalized cells. These results support a key role of the EGFR in HPV16-mediated transformation of HKc. In addition, these data show that normal HKc do not tolerate excessive EGFR levels/signaling, and such intolerance must be overcome in order for HKc to become immortalized by HPV16. We conclude that both E6 and E7 contribute to increasing EGFR levels, but with different mechanisms: although E6 can increase EGFR levels, it cannot overcome the resistance of normal HKc to excessive EGFR signaling. On the other hand E7, which alone does not acutely increase EGFR mRNA or protein, allows for EGFR overexpression in normal HKc.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in Cancer Research, v. 61, no. 9, p. 3837-3843.

Dr. Ann Coker had not been a faculty member of the University of Kentucky at the time of publication.