Human papillomavirus (HPV) does not induce lysis of infected keratinocytes, and the exact mechanisms of viral escape are not known. As keratinocytes differentiate, the cornified cell envelope (CCE) develops, providing a protective barrier to the host. We previously showed that the normally durable CCE in HPV 11-infected epithelium is fragile compared to CCEs in healthy epithelium. In this study, we examined uninfected and HPV 11-infected human genital epithelium for expression of loricrin, the major CCE protein in healthy epidermis. In HPV 11-infected human genital epithelium, detection of loricrin was reduced in immunoelectron microscopic and immunoblot assays, suggesting that loricrin incorporation into the CCE was reduced or that loricrin synthesis was reduced. Loricrin detection was reduced in immunohistochemical assays in areas of high viral replication. Mathematical modeling by least squares was performed using the amino acid composition of highly purified CCE fragments, confirming that loricrin was markedly reduced and that the small proline-rich proteins and cytokeratins were increased in those derived from HPV 11-infected epithelium compared to healthy genital epithelium. In RNase protection and RT-PCR assays, loricrin transcripts were markedly reduced in HPV 11-infected epithelium compared to uninfected epithelium. Loricrin transcripts were detectable by RNA in situ analysis in isolated cells of HPV 11-infected epithelium, but were absent in large regions of epithelium. We conclude that HPV 11 infection reduces transcription of the loricrin gene and that this leads to a reduction in loricrin incorporation into the CCE. Further studies will examine the effects of specific HPV gene products on transcription of loricrin and other CCE components, as it is likely that viral egress from the infected keratinocyte depends on these effects.
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