The target cells of the carcinogenic cottontail rabbit papillomavirus (CRPV) are located in regions of the pelage hair follicles that contain most of the keratinocyte colony-forming cells (K-CFCs). This population of cells contains epithelial stem cells and is highly permissive for the expression of the viral oncogenes E6, E7. These results arise important questions: What is the relationship between stem cells and papillomaviruses (PV)? Do stem cells have a specific receptor for papillomaviruses or do they provide a unique transcription machinery for PV gene expression?
We propose to study the early steps of CRPV infection. Pelage hair follicles from New Zealand White rabbits will be microdissected and then put in contact with CRPV virions or with labelled CRPV-like particles. These experiments should permit to determine if CRPV infection is targeted specifically to follicular stem cells and they should contribute thus to a better understanding of PV infection.