Novel insights into epigenetic drivers of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma: Role of HPV and lifestyle factors

Paolo Boscolo-Rizzo, Carlo Furlan, Valentina Lupato, Jerry Polesel, Elisabetta Fratta

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In the last years, the explosion of high throughput sequencing technologies has enabled epigenome-wide analyses, allowing a more comprehensive overview of the oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) epigenetic landscape. In this setting, the cellular pathways contributing to the neoplastic phenotype, including cell cycle regulation, cell signaling, DNA repair, and apoptosis have been demonstrated to be potential targets of epigenetic alterations in OPSCC. Of note, it has becoming increasingly clear that HPV infection and OPSCC lifestyle risk factors differently drive the epigenetic machinery in cancer cells. Epigenetic changes, including DNA methylation, histone modifications, and non-coding RNA expression, can be used as powerful and reliable tools for early diagnosis of OPSCC patients and improve prognostication. Since epigenetic changes are dynamic and reversible, epigenetic enzymes may also represent suitable targets for the development of more effective OPSCC therapeutic strategies. Thus, this review will focus on the main known epigenetic modifications that can occur in OPSCC and their exploitation as potential biomarkers and therapeutic targets. Furthermore, we will address epigenetic alterations to OPSCC risk factors, with a particular focus on HPV infection, tobacco exposure, and heavy alcohol consumption.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124
Number of pages19
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 28 2017


  • Environmental risk factors
  • Epigenetics
  • Human papillomavirus
  • Oropharyngeal cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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