Medical Science

Human Tumor Viruses
Blossom Damania, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Viruses are important because they are etiological agents of disease, and the prevention of viral infection and the development of antiviral therapies will ease human suffering. Due to the fact that they need to reproduce and grow inside a cell, viruses are also major drivers of modern molecular and cellular biology. They serve as powerful model systems for understanding the inner workings of the cell. Furthermore, because all viruses encode gene products that modulate cellular pathways to enable virion production or to antagonize host antiviral defense systems, viruses are also important tools for the discovery and elucidation of cellular pathways that regulate cell proliferation, cell death, and the host immune response.

Tumor viruses are viruses that induce cancer in their natural hosts or in experimental animal systems. Tumor viruses have been broadly classified into RNA tumor viruses and DNA tumor viruses based on the nature of the nucleic acid contained within their virion. Certain members of both RNA and DNA tumor viruses are associated with human cancer. RNA tumor viruses associated with human cancer are human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV) and Hepatitis C virus (HCV). DNA tumor viruses associated with human cancer include human papillomavirus (HPV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), Hepatitis B virus (HBV), and Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV).
The mechanisms by which RNA and DNA tumor viruses induce cancer in humans are different. Yet, there are several common themes shared by these viruses, and their study has greatly contributed to our understanding of the molecular events that drive human cancer.

Review Article:

Moore PS, Chang Y. Why do viruses cause cancer? Highlights of the first century of human tumour virology. Nat Rev Cancer. 2010 Dec;10(12):878-89.Review.

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Medical Science

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