Review ARTICLE

Front. Oncol., 10 April 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fonc.2012.00036

New concepts for translational head and neck oncology: lessons from HPV-related oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas

Efterpi Kostareli1, Dana Holzinger2 and Jochen Hess1,3*
  • 1 Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, Research Group Experimental Head and Neck Oncology, University Hospital Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
  • 2 Division of Genome Modifications and Carcinogenesis (F020), Infection and Cancer Program, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany
  • 3 Junior Group Molecular Mechanisms of Head and Neck Tumors (A102), DKFZ-ZMBH Alliance, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is well established as an etiological agent responsible for a number of pathologies affecting the stratified epithelia of skin and anogenital sites. More recently, the infection by (mucosal) high-risk HPV types has also been found to be causally associated with squamous cell carcinoma in the head and neck region (HNSCC), especially in the oropharynx. Intriguingly, HPV-related oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OPSCC) represent a distinct clinical entity compared to HPV-negative tumors with particular regard to treatment–response and survival outcome. The association between HPV infection and OPSCC may therefore have important implications for the prevention and/or treatment of OPSCC. The improved survival of patients with HPV-related tumors also raises the question, as to whether a better understanding of the underlying differences may help to identify new therapeutic concepts that could be used in targeted therapy for HPV-negative and improved therapy for HPV-positive cancers. This review summarizes the most recent advances in our understanding of the molecular principles of HPV-related OPSCC, mainly based on functional genomic approaches, but also emphasizes the significant role played by the tumor microenvironment, especially the immune system, for improved clinical outcome and differential sensitivity of HPV-related tumors to current treatment options.

Keywords: HNSCC, HPV, OPSCC, epigenome, genome, transcriptome

Citation: Kostareli E Holzinger D and Hess J (2012) New concepts for translational head and neck oncology: lessons from HPV-related oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas. Front. Oncol. 2:36. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2012.00036

Received: 15 February 2012; Paper pending published: 15 March 2012;
Accepted: 27 March 2012; Published online: 11 April 2012.

Edited by:

Seungwon Kim, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, USA

Reviewed by:

Herbert Loong, Prince of Wales Hospital, Hong Kong
Guilherme Rabinowits, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, USA

Copyright: © 2012 Kostareli, Holzinger and Hess. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Jochen Hess, Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, Experimental Head and Neck Oncology, University Hospital Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 400, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany. e-mail: jochen.hess@med.uni-heidelberg.de

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