Human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16) transcription was analysed in one squamous cervical carcinoma by cDNA cloning and DNA sequencing, and in eight additional squamous cervical carcinomas and 11 precancerous lesions by RNA-RNA hybridization. The nucleotide sequences of the cDNA clones revealed structures of early HPV-16 mRNAs (E6*-E7-E1^E4-E5) in agreement with data reported for other premalignant and malignant tumours. cDNA clones possibly representing viral RNA of antisense orientation were also detected. These RNAs included sequences of the upstream regulatory region, part of the early and the late region of the genome. In three of eight squamous cervical carcinomas examined by hybridization, signals specific for viral antisense RNA were also found. The antisense RNAs had a predominantly nuclear localization. Viral antisense RNA could not be detected in any of 11 HPV-16-positive premalignant lesions. The expression of HPV antisense RNA is likely to be linked to viral integration into the host genome. The possible effects of viral antisense transcription with regard to tumour progression remain to be determined.


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