Prevalence of high-risk human papillomavirus infection and cancer gene mutations in nonmalignant tonsils

Taru Ilmarinen*, Pauliina Munne, Jaana Hagstrom, Caj Haglund, Eeva Auvinen, Elina I. Virtanen, Annick Haesevoets, Ernst J. M. Speel, Leena-Maija Aaltonen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives: To analyze the prevalence of high-risk HPV (human papillomavirus) and genetic alterations in nonmalignant tonsils.

Methods: We collected benign fresh tonsillar tissue specimens from 477 patients undergoing tonsillectomy because of chronic tonsillitis or tonsillar hypertrophy in 2012 (Group A, n = 237) and in 2015 (Group B, n = 240). Luminex xMAP technique served to detect E6/E7 DNA from 16 different high-risk HPV types. Tonsillar DNA and peripheral blood leukocyte DNA from the infected individuals were analyzed using Nimblegen SeqCap EZ Comprehensive Cancer Design panel. The panel targets 578 different genes that are relevant in carcinogenesis. HPV negative tonsillar specimens from age-and gender matched individuals were used as controls. All specimens harboring high-risk HPV were analyzed using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH).

Results: Five of 477 (1.0%) patients tested positive for the following HPV types: HPV16 (two cases), HPV52 (one case), HPV66 (one case), HPV52 and HPV68 (coinfection, one case). FISH analyses showed that the appearance of HPV in specimens infected with HPV 16 was episomal. Benign tonsils infected with high-risk HPV harbored mutations in EP300, NF1, PIK3CA, and RB1 which are considered relevant in the development of HPV-associated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

Conclusions: The prevalence of high-risk HPV in nonmalignant tonsils is low. High-risk HPV positive tonsils harbored mutations in genes that are commonly altered in HPV-associated head and neck SCC. The role of these mutations in tonsillar carcinogenesis is an interesting target for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-82
Number of pages6
JournalOral Oncology
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • Cancer gene
  • Human papillomavirus
  • Mutation
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Tonsil
  • HEAD
  • HPV
  • DNA

Cite this