Genital human papillomaviruses (HPV) are the most frequently sexually transmitted viruses. HPV can cause unregulated tumor-like growth of the host cells, which can be either benign, with warts forming at the site of infection, or malignant, as in cervical carcinoma. So far, 30 genital HPV types have been described. They are divided into two groups according to their oncogenic potential: High-risk and low-risk HPV. While high-risk HPV may be involved in the development of carcinoma and can be detected in cervical carcinomas, low-risk HPV alone may be only found in non-malignant tissue changes. For assessment of the course of HPV infection and the risks involved it is not only important to differentiate between high-risk and low-risk viruses but also to discriminate between the different viruses of the high-risk group.
Alongside cytology (Pap smear), direct detection methods for HPV play a very important role. They are based on the detection of viral DNA, mainly using PCR, or the detection of viral RNA produced by the host cells. The disadvantage of using conserved genes for HPV detection (e.g. L1, E1, E2) is that the genes may be lost during integration of viral DNA into the host DNA. PCR systems based on these sequences can therefore lead to false results despite viral DNA being present.
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