Head and Neck Pathology

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 361–372

Evidence That Alpha-9 Human Papillomavirus Infections are a Major Etiologic Factor for Oropharyngeal Carcinoma in Black South Africans


    • Fletcher Allen Health Care
    • University of Vermont College of Medicine
  • Mark F. Evans
    • University of Vermont College of Medicine
  • Shabnum S. Meer
    • University of the Witwatersrand
  • Vanitha Rajendran
    • University of Vermont College of Medicine
  • Christine S-C. Adamson
    • University of Vermont College of Medicine
  • Kumarasen Cooper
    • Fletcher Allen Health Care
    • University of Vermont College of Medicine
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s12105-013-0453-0

Cite this article as:
Paquette, C., Evans, M.F., Meer, S.S. et al. Head and Neck Pathol (2013) 7: 361. doi:10.1007/s12105-013-0453-0


Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, most commonly genotype 16 of the alpha-9 family, is implicated in the etiology of a subset of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OPSC) worldwide. Data are scarce regarding OPSC in South Africans, and three prior studies suggest no significant etiologic role for HPV. We aimed to investigate for evidence of HPV etiology in OPSCs from black South Africans by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methodologies with determination of HPV subtype by sequencing, in situ hybridization (ISH), and p16INK4a immunohistochemistry (IHC), as a surrogate marker for an HPV-driven tumor. It was hypothesized that HPV-driven tumors would be positive by PCR plus IHC and/or ISH whereas OPSCs with HPV background infections (HPV-passenger) would be positive by PCR alone. Formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues from 51 OPSCs collected between 2005 and 2010 from 41 patients were analyzed for HPV by GP5+6+ PCR (targeting the HPV L1 region), pU-1M/pU-2R PCR (targeting the HPV E6/E7 region) and HPV-31 specific PCR (targeting the E5 region), chromogenic ISH, and p16INK4a IHC. All cases positive by PCR were subject to sequencing to determine HPV genotype. The patient mean age was 58.0 years and 88 % were male. Of the 51 evaluable tumors, 48 (94.1 %) were positive for HPV DNA by PCR: 25 (49.1 %) met criteria for an HPV-driven tumor, 23 (45.1 %) for HPV-passenger, and 3 (5.9 %) were HPV-unrelated. Sequencing of the PCR-positive cases revealed the following genotypes: combined HPV-16 and 31 (41.7 %), HPV-31 (25.0 %), HPV-16 (22.9 %), combined HPV-16 and 18 (6.3 %), and a single case each of HPV 18 and HPV 33. Studies via ISH were negative in all cases. In accordance with worldwide trends but contrary to prior South African data, HPV likely plays an etiologic role in a significant subset (at least 49.1 %) of OPSC in black South Africans. We found that the alpha-9 HPV family, particularly HPV-16 and 31 either in combination or separately, to predominate in our sample tumors. The use of multiple PCR primers increased sensitivity of viral detection, and a HPV-31 specific primer confirmed the presence of this genotype in many samples. Further studies including HPV E6/E7 mRNA assays are needed to better elucidate the pathogenic role of HPV in black South African OPSCs.


Human papillomavirusHPV-16HPV-31South AfricaOropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013