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HPV E6 inhibits E6AP to regulate epithelial homeostasis by modulating keratinocyte differentiation commitment and YAP1 activation.

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Yin, Wen 
Egawa, Nagayasu 
Zheng, Ke 
Griffin, Heather 
Tian, Pu 


Human papillomaviruses (HPV) cause persistent infections by modulating epithelial homeostasis in cells of the infected basal layer. Using FUCCI and cell-cell competition assays, we have identifed regulatory roles for E6AP and NHERF1, which are the primary HPV11 E6 cellular targets, as well as being targets of the high-risk E6 proteins, in processes governing epithelial homeostasis (i.e. cell density, cell cycle entry, commitment to differentiation and basal layer delamination). Depletion of E6AP, or expression of HPV11 or 16E6 increased keratinocyte cell density and cell cycle activity, and delayed the onset of differentiation; phenotypes which were conspicuously present in HPV11 and 16 infected patient tissue. In line with proposed E6 functions, in HPV11 condyloma tissue, E6AP and NHERF1 were significantly reduced when compared to uninfected epithelium. In experimental systems, loss of HPV11 E6/E6AP binding abolished 11E6's homeostasis regulatory functions, while loss of E6/NHERF1 binding reduced the cell density threshold at which differentiation was triggered. By contrast, a NHERF1-binding mutant of 16E6 was not compromised in its homeostasis functions, while E6AP appeared essential. RNA sequencing revealed similar transcriptional profiles in both 11 and 16E6-expressing cells and E6AP-/- cells, with YAP target genes induced, and keratinocyte differentiation genes being downregulated. HPV11 E6-mediated Yap activation was observed in 2D and 3D (organotypic raft) cell culture systems and HPV-infected lesions, with both NHERF1, which is a regulator of the Hippo and Wnt pathways, and E6AP, playing an important role. As the conserved binding partner of Alpha group HPV E6 proteins, the precise role of E6AP in modulating keratinocyte phenotype and associated signalling pathways has not previously been defined. Our study suggests a model in which the preserved functions of the low and high-risk Alpha E6 proteins modulate epithelial homeostasis via E6AP activity, and lead to alteration of multiple downstream pathways, including those involving NHERF1 and YAP.


Acknowledgements: We thank Lawrence Banks for his generous gift of px459-E6AP plasmids. We acknowledge Louise Howard for tissue sectioning and the IMS-MRL Imaging Core for high content imaging. We also thank Dr. Yongxu Lu and Yiqi Zhao for valuable discussions and proofreading the manuscript.


Humans, Human Papillomavirus Viruses, Repressor Proteins, Papillomavirus Infections, Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases, Papillomaviridae, Oncogene Proteins, Viral, Cell Differentiation, Keratinocytes, Homeostasis

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PLoS Pathog

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Public Library of Science (PLoS)
MRC (MR/S024409/1)
Medical Research Council (MC_PC_13050)