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Human papillomavirus type 16 causes a defined subset of conjunctival in situ squamous cell carcinomas.

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Griffin, Heather 
Mudhar, Hardeep Singh 
Rundle, Paul 
Shiraz, Aslam 
Mahmood, Radma 


Squamous cell carcinoma of the conjunctiva is associated with a number of risk factors, including HIV infection, iatrogenic immunosuppression and atopy. In addition, several studies have suggested an involvement of HPV, based on the presence of viral DNA, but did not establish whether there was active infection or evidence of causal disease association. In this manuscript, 31 cases of conjunctival in situ squamous cell carcinoma were classified as HPV DNA-positive or -negative, before being analysed by immunohistochemistry to establish the distribution of viral and cellular biomarkers of HPV gene expression. Our panel included p16INK4a, TP53 and MCM, but also the virally encoded E4 gene product, which is abundantly expressed during productive infection. Subsequent in situ detection of HPV mRNA using an RNAscope approach confirmed that early HPV gene expression was occurring in the majority of cases of HPV DNA-positive conjunctival in situ squamous cell carcinoma, with all of these cases occurring in the atopic group. Viral gene expression correlated with TP53 loss, p16INK4a elevation, and extensive MCM expression, in line with our general understanding of E6 and E7's role during transforming infection at other epithelial sites. A characteristic E4 expression pattern was detected in only one case. HPV mRNA was not detected in lower grades of dysplasia, and was not observed in cases that were HPV DNA-negative. Our study demonstrates an active involvement of HPV in the development of a subset of conjunctival in situ squamous cell carcinoma. No high-risk HPV types were detected other than HPV16. It appears that the conjunctiva is a vulnerable epithelial site for HPV-associated transformation. These cancers are defined by their pattern of viral gene expression, and by the distribution of surrogate markers of HPV infection.



Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Carcinoma in Situ, Conjunctival Neoplasms, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Papillomavirus Infections, Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck

Journal Title

Mod Pathol

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Elsevier BV


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Medical Research Council (MC_PC_13050)
MRC (MR/S024409/1)
Medical Research Council (MC_U117584278)