Approximately 15–20% of human cancers are caused by viruses, including human papillomaviruses (HPVs). Viruses are obligatory intracellular parasites and encode proteins that reprogram the regulatory networks governing host cellular signaling pathways that control recognition by the immune system, proliferation, differentiation, genomic integrity, and cell death. Given that key proteins in these regulatory networks are also subject to mutation in non-virally associated diseases and cancers, the study of oncogenic viruses has also been instrumental to the discovery and analysis of many fundamental cellular processes, including messenger RNA (mRNA) splicing, transcriptional enhancers, oncogenes and tumor suppressors, signal transduction, immune regulation, and cell cycle control. More recently, tumor viruses, in particular HPV, have proven themselves invaluable in the study of the cancer epigenome. Epigenetic silencing or de-silencing of genes can have cellular consequences that are akin to genetic mutations, i.e., the loss and gain of expression of genes that are not usually expressed in a certain cell type and/or genes that have tumor suppressive or oncogenic activities, respectively. Unlike genetic mutations, the reversible nature of epigenetic modifications affords an opportunity of epigenetic therapy for cancer. This review summarizes the current knowledge on epigenetic regulation in HPV-infected cells with a focus on those elements with relevance to carcinogenesis.
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