Human papillomaviruses sensitize cells to DNA damage induced apoptosis by targeting the innate immune sensor cGAS

Elona Gusho, Laimonis A. Laimins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The cyclic GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS) is a critical regulator of the innate immune response acting as a sensor of double-strand DNAs from pathogens or damaged host DNA. Upon activation, cGAS signals through the STING/TBK1/IRF3 pathway to induce interferon expression. Double stranded DNA viruses target the cGAS pathway to facilitate infection. In HPV positive cells that stably maintain viral episomes, the levels of cGAS were found to be significantly increased over those seen in normal human keratinocytes. Furthermore the downstream effectors of the cGAS pathway, STING and IRF3, were fully active in response to signaling from the secondary messenger cGAMP or poly (dA:dT). In HPV positive cells cGAS was detected in both cytoplasmic puncta as well as in DNA damage induced micronuclei. E6 was responsible for increased levels of cGAS that was dependent on inhibition of p53. CRISPR-Cas9 mediated knockout of cGAS prevented activation of STING and IRF3 but had a minimal effect on viral replication. A primary function of cGAS in HPV positive cells was in response to treatment with etoposide or cisplatin which lead to increased levels of H2AX phosphorylation and activation of caspase 3/7 cleavage while having only a minimal effect on activation of homologous recombination repair factors ATM, ATR or CHK2. In HPV positive cells cGAS was found to regulate the levels of the phosphorylated non-homologous end-joining kinase, DNA-PK, which may contribute to H2AX phosphorylation along with other factors. Importantly cGAS was also responsible for increased levels of DNA breaks along with enhanced apoptosis in HPV positive cells but not in HFKs. This study identifies an important and novel role for cGAS in mediating the response of HPV positive cells to chemotherapeutic drugs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1010725
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Virology


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