Role of E6 in Maintaining the Basal Cell Reservoir during Productive Papillomavirus Infection.
Papillomaviruses exclusively infect stratified epithelial tissues and cause chronic infections. To achieve this, infected cells must remain in the epithelial basal layer alongside their uninfected neighbors for years or even decades. To examine how papillomaviruses achieve this, we used the in vivo MmuPV1 (Mus musculus papillomavirus 1) model of lesion formation and persistence. During early lesion formation, an increased cell density in the basal layer, as well as a delay in the infected cells' commitment to differentiation, was apparent in cells expressing MmuPV1 E6/E7 RNA. Using cell culture models, keratinocytes exogenously expressing MmuPV1 E6, but not E7, recapitulated this delay in differentiation postconfluence and also grew to a significantly higher density. Cell competition assays further showed that MmuPV1 E6 expression led to a preferential persistence of the cell in the first layer, with control cells accumulating almost exclusively in the second layer. Interestingly, the disruption of MmuPV1 E6 binding to MAML1 protein abrogated these phenotypes. This suggests that the interaction between MAML1 and E6 is necessary for the lower (basal)-layer persistence of MmuPV1 E6-expressing cells. Our results indicate a role for E6 in lesion establishment by facilitating the persistence of infected cells in the epithelial basal layer, a mechanism that is most likely shared by other papillomavirus types. Interruption of this interaction is predicted to impede persistent papillomavirus infection and consequently provides a novel treatment target. IMPORTANCE Persistent infection with high-risk HPV types can lead to development of HPV-associated cancers, and persistent low-risk HPV infection causes problematic diseases, such as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis. The management and treatment of these conditions pose a considerable economic burden. Maintaining a reservoir of infected cells in the basal layer of the epithelium is critical for the persistence of infection in the host, and our studies using the mouse papillomavirus model suggest that E6 gene expression leads to the preferential persistence of epithelial cells in the lower layers during stratification. The E6 interaction with MAML1, a component of the Notch pathway, is required for this phenotype and is linked to E6 effects on cell density and differentiation. These observations are likely to reflect a common E6 role that is preserved among papillomaviruses and provide us with a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of recalcitrant lesions.
Medical Research Council (MC_PC_13050)
Medical Research Council (MC_U117584278)