Squamous cell carcinoma driven by human papillomavirus (HPV) is more sensitive to DNA-damaging therapies than its HPV-negative counterpart. Here we show that p16, the clinically utilized surrogate for HPV positivity, renders cells more sensitive to radiation via a ubiquitin-dependent signaling pathway, linking high levels of this protein to increased activity of the transcription factor SP1, increased HUWE1 transcription, and degradation of ubiquitin-specific protease 7 (USP7) and TRIP12. Activation of this pathway in HPV-positive disease led to decreased homologous recombination (HR) and improved response to radiation, a phenomenon that can be recapitulated in HPV-negative disease using USP7 inhibitors in clinical development. This p16-driven axis induced sensitivity to PARP inhibition and potentially leads to "BRCAness" in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cells. Thus, these findings support a functional role for p16 in HPV-positive tumors in driving response to DNA damage, which can be exploited to improve outcomes in both HPV-positive and HPV-negative HNSCC patients.
View details for DOI 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-21-2101
View details for PubMedID 34965932