Bmi-1 cooperates with human papillomavirus type 16 E6 to immortalize normal human oral keratinocytes

Bmi-1 is a member of the polycomb group (PcG) transcription repressors and is implicated in human carcinogenesis. In normal human oral keratinocytes (NHOK), we found that exogenous Bmi-1 expression significantly extended the replicative life span without causing cellular immortalization. Immortalization of NHOK occurs only in combination with human papillomavirus type 16 E6 (HPV-16 E6) but not with E7. During immortalization of NHOK by sequential expression of exogenous Bmi-1 and E6, telomerase activation was observed only after the cells had overcome crisis. Genetic analysis with E6 deletion mutants revealed that the intact second zinc finger domain (amino acids 118–122) was necessary for its cooperative effects with Bmi-1 in the immortalization process. Using these mutants, we found that the increased telomerase activity was closely associated with cell immortalization by Bmi-1 and E6, whereas p53 degradation was not. Using microarray
analysis, we identified genes that are immortalization-specific and may participate in the process of NHOK immortalization by Bmi-1 and HPV-16 E6. Our results provide new information on the roles of Bmi-1 and HPV-16 E6 in the multi-step process of oral epithelial carcinogenesis.

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