Positive keratinocytes in 3D cell culture models: a novel therapy for HPV-associated disease

High-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) is the causative agent of benign, precancerous and cancerous lesions, in both anogenital and oropharyngeal sites. Increased expression of the viral oncoproteins E6 and E7 are responsible for tumour progression. The treatment of these precancerous and cancerous lesions is invasive, painful and with long-term side effects. Localised microwaves have been used successfully in the clinic for the treatment of verrucas, which are caused by low-risk HPV genotypes (>75% success rate versus >33% for cryotherapy). Moreover, local hyperthermia is known to have anti-tumour effects.

Ten-second microwave treatment of 3D in vitro-grown cervical tumour tissues (HPV16-positive SiHa cell) resulted in cell death in the treated zone while the tissue integrity was disrupted in the adjacent area. Microwaves induced apoptosis (induction of cleaved caspase 3) and autophagy (induction of LC3) and inhibited cell proliferation (loss of Ki67 and MCM2) in the entire tissue. Furthermore, HPV16 E6 and E7 expression was reduced in cells in the treated and transition zones, with subsequent induction of expression of the apoptosis-regulator, p53 over a 24 hour period following microwave treatment. Thermal stress, identified with the Heat Shock Protein 70 (HSP70) and translational stress identified by G3BP expression, was observed in the transition zone.

In conclusion, we demonstrate that the microwave treatment induces cell stress pathways and inhibits HPV oncoprotein expression that causes tumour progression. Induction of apoptosis and reduced cell proliferation suggest a reversal of the cervical tumour phenotype in the 3D tissues.


1. College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences, Institute of Infection Immunity and Inflammation, Centre for Virus Research

2. Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge

Ilaria Epifano (1), Michaela J. Conley (1), Andrew Stevenson (1), John Doorbar (2), Sheila V. Graham (1)

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