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Mutations in the HPV16 genome induced by APOBEC3 are associated with viral clearance

HPV16 causes half of cervical cancers worldwide; for unknown reasons, most infections resolve within two years. Here, we analyze the viral genomes of 5,328 HPV16-positive case-control samples to investigate mutational signatures and the role of human APOBEC3-induced mutations in viral clearance and cervical carcinogenesis. We identify four de novo mutational signatures, one of which matches the COSMIC APOBEC-associated signature 2. The viral genomes of the precancer/cancer cases are less likely to contain within-host somatic HPV16 APOBEC3-induced mutations (Fisher’s exact test, P = 6.2 x 10-14), and have a 30% lower nonsynonymous APOBEC3 mutation burden compared to controls. We replicate the low prevalence of HPV16 APOBEC3-induced mutations in 1,749 additional cases. APOBEC3 mutations also historically contribute to the evolution of HPV16 lineages. We demonstrate that cervical infections with a greater burden of somatic HPV16 APOBEC3-induced mutations are more likely to be benign or subsequently clear, suggesting they may reduce persistence, and thus progression, within the host.

Authors: Zhu B; Raine-Bennett T; Mirabello L; et al.

Nat Commun. 2020 Feb 14;11(1):886. Epub 2020-02-14.

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