Episomal-Persistent DNA in Cancer- and Chronic Diseases

Division of Episomal-Persistent DNA in Cancer- and Chronic Diseases

Prof. Dr. Harald zur Hausen

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The division Episomal-Persistent DNA in Cancer- and Chronic Diseases aims at the identification and characterization of disease-associated persistent circular DNA of infectious agents in human materials. Recent studies suggest an involvement of such agents in the development of chronic neurodegenerative diseases (Manuelidis, J. Neurovirol. (2011; 17:131–145). Besides the isolation of such DNAs, central questions are whether and in which way these DNA-sequences and their gene products contribute to the development of certain pathologies. A proof for a direct link between an infection with these agents and a specific disease may open new avenues for intervention (vaccination, identification of patients at risk and targeted therapy).

Numerous novel episomal DNA-sequences related to single-stranded circular DNA viruses have been isolated from milk, bovine sera as well as from different human pathological biopsies (Funk et al., Genome Announc. (2014; 2[4]), Gunst et al., Genome Announc. (2014; 2[4]), Lamberto et al., Genome Announc. (2014; 2[4]), Whitley et al., Genome Announc. (2014; 2[4]). The high degree of homology between isolates from milk, bovine sera and human tissue or serum points at the consumption of bovine meat or dairy products as potential route of transmission. The global epidemiology of some common human cancers (e.g. colon and breast cancer) could suggest a zoonotic origin of these conditions (zur Hausen and de Villiers, 2015).

Our division applies molecular biology, cell biology, immunology as well as high throughput methodology (RNA Seq, mass spec, serum scans, protein interaction screening) in order to characterize these novel DNA-sequences and their interactions with the host cell. In addition, seroepidemiological studies are conducted to receive more information on immune interactions between the human host and those agents. The involvement of potentially pathogenic infectious DNA agents in the etiology of malignant and neurological diseases is being studied. This takes into account interactions potentially resulting from the additional exposure to chemical, physical or biological factors. Our studies include the level of DNA (genome), RNA (transcriptome) as well as the level of potentially encoded proteins (proteome) and their effects on infected host cells.


Prof. Dr. Harald zur Hausen
Episomal-Persistent DNA in Cancer- and Chronic Diseases (F200)
Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum
Im Neuenheimer Feld 280
69120 Heidelberg

Tel: +49 6221 42 3850
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Selected Publications

  • zur Hausen, H. and de Villiers, E.M. Dairy cattle serum and milk factors contributing to the risk of colon and breast cancers. Int J Cancer: doi 10.1002/ijc.29466, 2015
  • zur Hausen, H. and de Villiers,E.M. Cancer „causation“ by infections – individual contributions and synergistic networks. Seminars Oncology 41(6): 860-875, 2014
  • zur Hausen H., de Villiers, E.-M.: Prenatal Infections with Subsequent Immune Tolerance Could Explain the Epidemiology of Common Childhood Cancers. World Cancer Report, IARC Lyon: 261-265, 2014
  • zur Hausen, H.: What do breast and CRC cancers and MS have in common? Nature Rev. Clinical Oncology, 12(10), 569-70, 2015
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