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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The role of inflammation in HPV infection of the Oesophagus

Georgia Schäfer12*, Siti Kabanda12, Beverly van Rooyen12, Martina Bergant Marušič3, Lawrence Banks3 and M Iqbal Parker12

Author Affiliations

1 International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cape Town, South Africa

2 Division of Medical Biochemistry, University of Cape Town, South Africa and the MRC/UCT Oesophageal Cancer Research Unit, Cape Town, South Africa

3 International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Trieste, Italy

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BMC Cancer 2013, 13:185  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-13-185

Published: 9 April 2013



Several human cancers are known to be associated with inflammation and/or viral infections. However, the influence of tumour-related inflammation on viral uptake is largely unknown. In this study we used oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) as a model system since this type of cancer is associated with chronic irritation, inflammation and viral infections. Although still debated, the most important viral infection seems to be with Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The present study focused on a possible correlation between inflammation, OSCC development and the influence of HPV infection.


A total of 114 OSCC biopsies and corresponding normal tissue were collected at Groote Schuur Hospital and Tygerberg Hospital, Cape Town (South Africa), that were subjected to RNA and DNA isolation. RNA samples were analysed by quantitative Light Cycler RT-PCR for the expression of selected genes involved in inflammation and infection, while conventional PCR was performed on the DNA samples to assess the presence of integrated viral DNA. Further, an in vitro infection assay using HPV pseudovirions was established to study the influence of inflammation on viral infectivity using selected cell lines.


HPV DNA was found in about 9% of OSCC patients, comprising predominantly the oncogenic type HPV18. The inflammatory markers IL6 and IL8 as well as the potential HPV receptor ITGA6 were significantly elevated while IL12A was downregulated in the tumour tissues. However, none of these genes were expressed in a virus-dependent manner. When inflammation was mimicked with various inflammatory stimulants such as benzo-α-pyrene, lipopolysaccharide and peptidoglycan in oesophageal epithelial cell lines in vitro, HPV18 pseudovirion uptake was enhanced only in the benzo-α-pyrene treated cells. Interestingly, HPV pseudovirion infectivity was independent of the presence of the ITGA6 receptor on the surface of the tested cells.


This study showed that although the carcinogen benzo-α-pyrene facilitated HPV pseudovirion uptake into cells in culture, HPV infectivity was independent of inflammation and seems to play only a minor role in oesophageal cancer.

HPV; Cytokines; Receptors; Oesophageal cancer