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Zinc finger arrays binding human papillomavirus types 16 and 18 genomic DNA: precursors of gene-therapeutics for in-situ reversal of associated cervical neoplasia

Misaki Wayengera

Author Affiliations

Unit of Genetics, Genomics & Theoretical Biology, Dept of Pathology, School of Biomedical Science, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, P. O. Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda

Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 2012, 9:30  doi:10.1186/1742-4682-9-30

Published: 28 July 2012



Human papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18 are the high-risk, sexually transmitted infectious causes of most cervical intraepithelial neoplasias (CIN) or cancers. While efficacious vaccines to reduce the sexual acquisition of these high-risk HPVs have recently been introduced, no virus-targeted therapies exist for those already exposed and infected. Considering the oncogenic role of the transforming (E6 and E7) genes of high-risk HPVs in the slow pathogenesis of cervical cancer, we hypothesize that timely disruption or abolition of HPV genome expression within pre-cancerous lesions identified at screening may reverse neoplasia. We aimed to derive model zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) for mutagenesis of the genomes of two high-risk HPV (types 16 & 18).

Methods and results

Using ZiFiT software and the complete genomes of HPV types16 and 18, we computationally generated the consensus amino acid sequences of the DNA-binding domains (F1, F2, & F3) of (i) 296 & 327 contextually unpaired (or single) three zinc-finger arrays (sZFAs) and (ii) 9 & 13 contextually paired (left and right) three- zinc-finger arrays (pZFAs) that bind genomic DNA of HPV-types 16 and 18 respectively, inclusive of the E7 gene (s/pZFAHpV/E7). In the absence of contextually paired three-zinc-finger arrays (pZFAs) that bind DNA corresponding to the genomic context of the E6 gene of either HPV type, we derived the DNA binding domains of another set of 9 & 14 contextually unpaired E6 gene-binding ZFAs (sZFAE6) to aid the future quest for paired ZFAs to target E6 gene sequences in both HPV types studied (pZFAE6). This paper presents models for (i) synthesis of hybrid ZFNs that cleave within the genomic DNA of either HPV type, by linking the gene sequences of the DNA-cleavage domain of the FokI endonuclease FN to the gene sequences of a member of the paired-HPV-binding ZFAs (pZFAHpV/E7 + FN), and (ii) delivery of the same into precancerous lesions using HPV-derived viral plasmids or vectors.


With further optimization, these model ZFNs offer the opportunity to induce target-mutagenesis and gene-therapeutic reversal of cervical neoplasia associated with HPV types 16 & 18.