Scientists find cancer-causing virus in the brain, potential connection to epilepsy

January 24, 2013

Researchers at Shriner's Hospital Pediatric Research Center at the Temple University School of Medicine, and the University of Pennsylvania have evidence linking the human papillomavirus 16 (HPV16) – the most common cause of cervical cancer – to a common form of childhood epilepsy. They have shown for the first time that HPV16 may be present in the human brain, and found that when they added a viral protein to the brains of fetal mice, the mice all demonstrated the same developmental problems in the cerebral cortex associated with this type of epilepsy, called focal cortical dysplasia type IIB (FCDIIB). The findings suggest that the virus could play a role in the development of epilepsy.

The results also mean that doctors may have to re-think their approach to treating this type of epilepsy, and perhaps consider other therapeutic options related to HPV, an infectious disease.

"This is a novel mechanism, and it fills a gap in our understanding about the development of congenital ," said Peter Crino, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurology at Temple University School of Medicine, and a member of Shriner's Hospital Pediatric Research Center, and the senior author of a recent report in the .

"If our data are correct, future treatment of cortical dysplasia could include targeted therapy against HPV16 infection, with the goal of halting seizures. Identifying an as part of the pathogenesis of brain malformations could open up an array of new therapeutic approaches against various forms of epilepsy."

FCDIIB is a developmental malformation in the , the area of the brain that plays key roles in thought, perception and memory. It is a common cause of both pediatric and adult epilepsy – especially difficult-to-treat forms of epilepsy – and it is thought to occur in the womb during . The condition is characterized by a disorganized and enlarged, "balloon cells." Current treatments include surgery and medication.

Balloon cells contain a signaling cascade called the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTOR1), which is important for cellular growth, proliferation and division, particularly in brain development. Other scientists have recently found the mTOR pathway is activated by the HPV16 E6 oncoprotein.

While there had never been any studies indicating that HPV16 could infect the brain, Dr. Crino saw a potential connection. "This is a sporadic, congenital brain malformation associated with mTOR signaling with no genetic predisposition," he said. "Based on various cellular and cell signaling similarities between cervical dysplasia and focal cortical dysplasia, this led me to a hypothesis that the HPV protein could be detected in FCDIIB."

To find out, the investigators first examined FCDIIB tissue samples from 50 patients for evidence of the HPV16 E6 protein. They found that all of the samples were positive for the protein in the balloon cells, but not in regions without balloon cells or in 36 control samples from healthy individuals.

They next examined the samples' genetic material by several sophisticated molecular techniques to look for evidence of HPV16 E6, and compared the findings to tissue from healthy controls and tissue from patients with different types of brain malformations and epilepsy. Again, every sample of FCDIIB was found to contain HPV16 E6 protein, whereas the control specimens and tissue from other types of dysplasia and conditions did not.

Finally, in a series of experiments, the scientists painstakingly delivered the E6 protein into the brains of fetal mice. "If E6 is the causative element for HPV cervical dysplasia and focal cortical dysplasia, putting the protein into a fetal mouse brain should disrupt the cortical development," Dr. Crino explained. When the scientists did this, they found that the fetal mouse brains did indeed develop brain malformations.

Dr. Crino plans to investigate other forms of cortical dysplasia to see if HPV or related viral proteins can be found. He and his team aren't sure how the virus gets into the brain, but their results suggest that an HPV infection in the placenta could be one possible path. The exact mechanism by which HPV16 might cause a malformation and epilepsy remains to be determined. He acknowledged several potential implications from the findings.

"We are going to have to think about this epidemiologically as an infectious disease, not a genetic disorder. In terms of prevention, with current HPV vaccination, we have a potentially modifiable disease," he said. "In addition, if in fact this type of epilepsy represents a disorder of mTOR signaling, then one strategy could be, rather than treating the patients with anti-epileptic drugs, is to perhaps use mTOR inhibitors.

"The million dollar result would be to show it is possible to induce a malformation with an E6 infection, and the animal develops ," Dr. Crino said. "It would be even better if we showed that it is preventable."

Explore further: Aging accelerates brain abnormalities in childhood onset epilepsy patients

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3 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2013
but doesn't this beg the larger question of how a virus gets into the brain? I know viruses are very small and crafty (small enough to get past the blood brain barrier?), but it seems to me that the fact that one so commonly known as hpv can set up housekeeping in the brain is a rather big and interesting deal?
Fabio P_
5 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2013
@krierpat: It is, and research is ongoing. It's not an isolated example. Even the common herpes simplex virus can invade the central nervous system, most likely by using the axons of the cranial nerves as highways towards the brain, where it can cause the potentially deadly herpesviral encephalitis.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2013
For 100% cure fro cancer I have 2 words:


Google it. Educate yourselves people
Fabio P_
5 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2013
@Jockus: Unsupported by evidence. Considering the neurotoxic properties of the annonacin found in the seed of the fruit, I would suggest you shut up and stop advising people to consume it.
1 / 5 (3) Jan 27, 2013
@Jockus: Unsupported by evidence. Considering the neurotoxic properties of the annonacin found in the seed of the fruit, I would suggest you shut up and stop advising people to consume it.
Why? It looks delicious
Fabio P_
not rated yet Jan 28, 2013
@kochevnik: "Neurotoxic" should be your clue there.

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