The ability of the human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16) E6 or E7 gene to induce immortalization of normal human embryonic fibroblast WHE-7 cells was examined. WHE-7 cells at 9 population doublings (PD) were infected with retrovirus vectors encoding either HPV-16 E6 or E7 alone or both E6 and E7 (E6/E7). One of 4 isolated clones carrying E6 alone became immortal and is currently at >445 PD. Four of 4 isolated clones carrying E7 alone escaped from crisis and are currently at >330 PD. Three of 5 isolated clones carrying E6/E7 were also immortalized and are currently at >268 PD. The immortal clone carrying E6 only and 2 of the 3 immortal clones carrying E6/E7 expressed a high level of E6 protein, and all the immortal clones carrying E7 alone and the other immortal clone carrying E6/E7 expressed a high level of E7 protein when compared to their mortal or precrisis clones. The immortal clones expressing a high level of E6 or E7 protein were positive for telomerase activity or an alternative mechanism of telomere maintenance, respectively, known as ALT (alternative lengthening of telomeres). All the mortal or precrisis clones were negative for both phenotypes. All the immortal clones exhibited abrogation of G1 arrest after DNA damage by X-ray irradiation. The expression of INK4a protein (p16(INK4a)) was undetectable in the E6-infected mortal and immortal clones, whereas Rb protein (pRb) was hyperphosphorylated only in the immortal clone. The p16(INK4a) protein was overexpressed in all the E7-infected immortal clones and their clones in the pre-crisis period as well as all the E6/E7-infected mortal and immortal clones, but the pRb expression was downregulated in all of these clones. These results demonstrate for the first time to our knowledge that HPV-16 E6 or E7 alone can induce immortalization of normal human embryonic fibroblasts. Inactivation of p16(INK4a)/pRb pathways in combination with activation of a telomere maintenance mechanism is suggested to be necessary for immortalization of normal human embryonic fibroblasts by these viral oncogenes. The susceptibility of human cells to immortalization may be related to the state of differentiation of the cells.
← Functional characterization of novel telomerase RNA (TERC) mutations in patients with diverse clinical and pathological presentations.