A comparative study of extracellular vesicle-associated and cell-free DNA and RNA for HPV detection in oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma

Bella Nguyen, Katie Meehan, Michelle R. Pereira, Bob Mirzai, Si Hong Lim, Connull Leslie, Michael Clark, Chady Sader, Peter Friedland, Andrew Lindsay, Colin Tang, Michael Millward, Elin S. Gray, Annette M. Lim

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Purpose: This study compares the detection sensitivity of two separate liquid biopsy sources, cell-free (cf) DNA/RNA and extracellular vesicle (EV)-associated DNA/RNA (EV-DNA/RNA), to identify circulating Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) DNA/RNA in plasma obtained from patients with oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPCSCC). We also report on the longitudinal changes observed in HPV-DNA levels in response to treatment. Experimental design: A prospective study was conducted that included 22 patients with locally advanced disease and six patients with metastatic OPCSCC. Twenty-three patients had HPV-related OPCSCC defined by p16 immunohistochemistry. Levels of circulating HPV-DNA and HPV-RNA from plasma-derived cf-DNA/RNA and EV-DNA/RNA were quantified using digital droplet PCR. Results: Circulating HPV-DNA was detected with higher sensitivity in cf-DNA compared to EV-DNA at 91% vs. 42% (p = <0.001). Similarly, circulating tumoral HPV-RNA was detected at a higher sensitivity in cf-RNA compared to EV-RNA, at 83% vs. 50% (p = 0.0019). In the locally advanced cohort, 100% (n = 16) of HPV-OPCSCC patients demonstrated a reduction in circulating HPV-DNA levels in cf-DNA following curative treatment, with 81% of patients demonstrating complete clearance to undetectable levels. However, in metastatic HPV-OPCSCC patients (n = 4), HPV-DNA levels did not correlate with treatment response. Conclusion: Our study demonstrates that although HPV-DNA/RNA can be detected in EV associated DNA/RNA, cf-DNA/RNA is the more sensitive liquid biopsy medium. As circulating HPV-DNA levels were found to only correlate with treatment response in the locally advanced but not metastatic setting in our small cohort of patients, the use of HPV-DNA as a dynamic biomarker to monitor treatment response requires further evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6083
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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