UBC9, the sole E2-conjugating enzyme required for SUMOylation, is a key regulator of essential cellular functions and, as such, is frequently altered in cancers. Along these lines, we recently reported that its expression gradually increases during early stages of human papillomavirus (HPV)-mediated cervical lesions transformation. However, a better understanding of how UBC9 is exploited by transforming viral oncoproteins is still needed. In the present study, we show that in human samples HPV drives UBC9 up-regulation also in very early steps of head and neck tumorigenesis, pointing to the important role for UBC9 in the HPV-mediated carcinogenic program. Moreover, using HPV-infected pre-cancerous tissues and primary human keratinocytes as the natural host of the virus, we investigate the pathological meaning and the cellular mechanisms responsible for UBC9 de-regulation in an oncoviral context. Our results show that UBC9 overexpression is promoted by transforming viral proteins to increase host cells’ resistance to apoptosis. In addition, ultrastuctural, pharmacological and genetic approaches crucially unveil that UBC9 is physiologically targeted by autophagy in human cells. However, the presence of HPV E6/E7 oncoproteins negatively impacts the autophagic process through selective inhibition of autophagosome-lysosome fusion, finally leading to p53 dependent UBC9 accumulation during viral-induced cellular transformation. Therefore, our study elucidates how UBC9 is manipulated by HPV oncoproteins, details the physiological mechanism by which UBC9 is degraded in cells, and identifies how HPV E6/E7 impact on autophagy. These findings point to UBC9 and autophagy as novel hallmarks of HPV oncogenesis, and open innovative avenues towards the treatment of HPV-related malignancies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology