Human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16) 5'-splice site SD3632 is used exclusively to produce late L1 mRNAs. We identified a 34-nt splicing inhibitory element located immediately upstream of HPV-16 late 5'-splice site SD3632. Two AUAGUA motifs located in these 34 nt inhibited SD3632. Two nucleotide substitutions in each of the HPV-16 specific AUAGUA motifs alleviated splicing inhibition and induced late L1 mRNA production from episomal forms of the HPV-16 genome in primary human keratinocytes. The AUAGUA motifs bind specifically not only to the heterogeneous nuclear RNP (hnRNP) D family of RNA-binding proteins including hnRNP D/AUF, hnRNP DL and hnRNP AB but also to hnRNP A2/B1. Knock-down of these proteins induced HPV-16 late L1 mRNA expression, and overexpression of hnRNP A2/B1, hnRNP AB, hnRNP DL and the two hnRNP D isoforms hnRNP D37 and hnRNP D40 further suppressed L1 mRNA expression. This inhibition may allow HPV-16 to hide from the immune system and establish long-term persistent infections with enhanced risk at progressing to cancer. There is an inverse correlation between expression of hnRNP D proteins and hnRNP A2/B1 and HPV-16 L1 production in the cervical epithelium, as well as in cervical cancer, supporting the conclusion that hnRNP D proteins and A2/B1 inhibit HPV-16 L1 mRNA production
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