Approximately 200 human papillomaviruses (HPVs) infect human epithelial cells, of which the alpha and beta types have been the most extensively studied. Alpha HPV types mainly infect mucosal epithelia and a small group of these causes over 600,000 cancers per year worldwide at various anatomical sites, especially anogenital and head-and-neck cancers. Of these the most important is cervical cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer-related death in women in many parts of the world. Beta HPV types infect cutaneous epithelia and may contribute towards the initiation of non-melanoma skin cancers. HPVs encode two oncoproteins, E6 and E7, which are directly responsible for the development of HPV-induced carcinogenesis. They do this cooperatively by targeting diverse cellular pathways involved in the regulation of cell cycle control, of apoptosis and of cell polarity control networks. In this review, the biological consequences of papillomavirus targeting of various cellular substrates at diverse anatomical sites in the development of HPV-induced malignancies are highlighted.
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