Discovering crucial role of protein that could stop HPV virus infection

April 30, 2018, University of Leeds
Discovering crucial role of protein that could stop HPV virus infection
Credit: University of Leeds

New drugs in the early stages of development by pharmaceutical companies could have an extra benefit – the ability to cancel out HPV virus, which can cause cervical cancer and skin conditions.

Scientists at the University of Leeds and University of Birmingham, whose research focuses on Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), say many people are unaware it is also responsible for numerous other cancers, especially those affecting the head and neck, which are increasing and becoming more prevalent in men.

They have now discovered the role of one of the crucial proteins responsible for allowing HPV to infect . It is called STAT3 and is essential for HPV to replicate.

The team, led by Dr. Andrew Macdonald at the University's Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology, said without STAT3 the could not work because the full set of properties it needed would not be available.

Completing the pathway

His team, funded by Wellcome and the Medical Research Council, has also found the individual enzymes which activates STAT3 in cells infected with HPV.

Uncovering the identity and role of these enzymes which 'switch on' STAT3 completes the chain and means scientists have a new pathway to work through to target HPV-based cancers.

Dr. Macdonald said the fact drugs were already being developed which targeted the same enzymes for other uses meant the possibility of a new treatment could be much closer to becoming a reality.

He said: "We need to find new ways of treating HPV cancers, so we have been working towards understanding how the virus works and interacts with cells.

"Now we have identified both the role of STAT3 and how it is activated, we have a potential target for future studies in combating HPV associated disease.

"We know there are various drugs being developed that have the potential to target the enzymes we are dealing with for other purposes. This is great news because it means that while there is still a long way to go, we are already over the first hurdle."

Controlling the virus

The team used samples of donated to understand how the virus increased cell growth, and found that when STAT3 was not active, this was prevented.

Ph.D. researcher Ethan Morgan, who carried out much of the lab work to identify the roles of STAT3 and the enzymes that switch it on, added: "The process of uncovering these enzymes and the way they activate STAT3 has been really important because we have now found an approach which could prevent HPV infection. The next step for us will be more time in the lab refining our work and then confirming the role of STAT3 in HPV associated cancers."

Currently there is no screening programme for head and neck cancers and, while there is a HPV vaccine, it is only effective if administered before infection with the virus.

The research has been published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

Explore further: No 'brakes': Study finds mechanism for increased activity of oncogene in certain cancers

More information: Ethan L. Morgan et al. STAT3 activation by E6 is essential for the differentiation-dependent HPV18 life cycle, PLOS Pathogens (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006975

Related Stories

No 'brakes': Study finds mechanism for increased activity of oncogene in certain cancers

January 6, 2014
The increased activation of a key oncogene in head and neck cancers could be the result of mutation and dysfunction of regulatory proteins that are supposed to keep the gene, which has the potential to cause cancer, in check, ...

Scientists discover critical anti-viral role of biological molecule

January 26, 2017
Scientists have discovered that a biological molecule important in cell growth (STAT3) is also critical in protecting us against infection - so much so that we would be unable to fight the common flu virus without it. Their ...

Researchers reveal how a protein common in cancers jumps anti-tumor mechanisms

March 17, 2014
A Stony Brook University-led international team of infectious disease researchers have discovered how a cellular protein, called STAT3, which is overactive in a majority of human cancers, interferes with an antitumor mechanism ...

Researchers design small molecule to disrupt cancer-causing protein

March 26, 2013
Researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center and colleagues at the University of South Florida have developed a small molecule that inhibits STAT3, a protein that causes cancer. This development could impact the treatment of several ...

Mutations in key cancer protein suggest new route to treatments

November 19, 2015
For years, scientists have struggled to find a way to block a protein known to play an important role in many cancers. The protein, STAT3, acts as a transcription factor—it performs the crucial task of helping convert DNA ...

Recommended for you

Lung-on-a-chip simulates pulmonary fibrosis

May 25, 2018
Developing new medicines to treat pulmonary fibrosis, one of the most common and serious forms of lung disease, is not easy.

Reconstructing Zika's spread

May 24, 2018
The urgent threat from Zika virus, which dominated news headlines in the spring and summer of 2016, has passed for now. But research into how Zika and other mosquito-borne infections spread and cause epidemics is still very ...

Molecular network boosts drug resistance and virulence in hospital-acquired bacterium

May 24, 2018
In response to antibiotics, a gene regulation network found in the bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii acts to boost both virulence and antibiotic resistance. Edward Geisinger of Tufts University School of Medicine and colleagues ...

Tick bite protection: New CDC study adds to the promise of permethrin-treated clothing

May 24, 2018
The case for permethrin-treated clothing to prevent tick bites keeps getting stronger.

Past use of disinfectants and PPE for Ebola could inform future outbreaks

May 24, 2018
Data from the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak at two Sierra Leone facilities reveal daily usage rates for disinfectant and personal protective equipment, informing future outbreaks, according to a study published May 24, 2018 in ...

Early lactate measurements appear to improve results for septic patients

May 24, 2018
On October 1, 2015, the United States Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a bundle of recommendations defining optimal treatment of patients suffering from sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.