High-risk human papillomavirus (HR-HPV) infects epithelial cells and is the major cause of anogenital and oropharyngeal cancers. HR-HPV oncogenic activity is through E6 control of p53, but E6 binds and degrades PDZ proteins such as the tumour suppress protein hDlg (human homologue of DrosophilaDiscs Large). The E6/hDlg complex also contains Connexin 43 (Cx43) (MacDonald, Sun et al. 2012), the major building block of gap junctions that allow intercellular molecular communication. In HPV16-positive non-tumour cervical keratinocytes (W12NT: low E6 levels) Cx43/hDlg is on the plasma membrane but in the cytoplasm in W12T tumour epithelial cells (W12T: high E6 levels) correlating with loss of gap junction cell-cell communication. E6 siRNA depletion in W12T cells restored Cx43 to the cell membrane, while overexpressing E6 in HPV-negative cervical cancer cells C33a resulted in Cx43 moving to the cytoplasm. E6 could control Cx43 trafficking through controlling hDlg or by altering cell signalling. In the absence of E6 in HEK293, HaCaT and normal immortalised keratinocytes (NIKS), Cx43 and hDlg could be co-immunoprecipitated and they co-localised on the plasma membrane. Thus, the Cx43/hDlg interaction is not carcinoma cell-specific, is not dependent on HR-HPV E6, and may have a functional role in non-cancer cells. siRNA depletion of hDlg, led to reduction in Cx43 protein levels and some relocation to the cytoplasm. This indicates that HPV E6 controls Cx43 through interaction with and degradation of hDlg. However, we cannot discount that E6 itself may have additional effects on Cx43 levels and trafficking besides via hDlg.


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