Oral testing for high-risk human papillomavirus DNA and E6/E7 messenger RNA in healthy individuals at risk for oral infection

Francesca Rollo, Barbara Pichi, Maria Benevolo, Massimo Giuliani, Alessandra Latini, Laura Lorenzon, Manuela Colafigli, Mirko Frasca, Raul Pellini, Antonio Cristaudo, Maria Gabriella Donà

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Testing for oral high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA may be useful for identifying individuals at increased risk for HPV-driven oropharyngeal cancer (OPC). However, positivity for HPV DNA provides no information on the transforming potential of the infection. In contrast, the detection of high-risk HPV E6/E7 messenger RNA (mRNA) may help to identify clinically significant infections because of the indispensable role of E6/E7 viral oncoproteins in the carcinogenic process. Methods: Oral rinses were collected with a mouthwash from cancer-free individuals at increased risk for oral HPV infection. High-risk HPV DNA and mRNA were evaluated via the testing of the oral rinses with the Linear Array HPV genotyping test and the Aptima HPV assay, respectively. Results: Overall, 310 subjects with no clinical evidence of lesions of the oral cavity and oropharynx were included in the study. Thirty-three (10.6%) harbored high-risk HPV DNA in their oral rinse. These cases, together with 10 random samples negative for high-risk HPV DNA, were tested with the Aptima assay. A valid result was obtained for 41 of the 43 specimens (95.3%). Among the 31 cases that were positive for high-risk HPV DNA and had a valid Aptima result, 4 (12.9%) were positive for HPV mRNA. HPV mRNA was not detected in any of the samples negative for high-risk HPV DNA. Conclusions: HPV mRNA is detectable in oral rinses of cancer-free subjects. Oral HPV mRNA testing may be useful in the screening and/or early detection of HPV-driven OPC by possibly identifying active and transforming oral infections. The testing of individuals at increased risk for HPV-related OPC via simply and noninvasively collected oral specimens is an attractive option for future screening strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2587-2593
Number of pages7
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2019


  • E6/E7 messenger RNA (mRNA)
  • head and neck neoplasms
  • human papillomavirus
  • men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • oral rinse
  • oropharyngeal neoplasms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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