International reviews of immunology 2017 12 06() 1-14 doi 10.1080/08830185.2017.1403596
APOBEC3s (A3) are endogenous DNA-editing enzymes that are expressed in immune cells including T lymphocytes. A3s target and mutate the genomes of retroviruses that infect immune tissues such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Therefore, A3s were classically defined as host anti-viral innate immune factors. In contrast, we and others showed that A3s can also benefit the virus by mediating escape from adaptive immune recognition and drugs. Crucially, whether A3-mediated mutations help or hinder HIV, is not up to chance. Rather, the virus has evolved multiple mechanisms to actively and maximally subvert A3 activity. More recently, extensive A3 mutational footprints in tumor genomes have been observed in many different cancers. This suggests a role for A3s in cancer initiation and progression. On the other hand, multiple anti-tumor activities of A3s have also come to light, including impact on immune checkpoint molecules and possible generation of tumor neo-antigens. Here, we review the studies that reshaped the view of A3s from anti-viral innate immune agents to host factors exploited by HIV to escape from immune recognition. Viruses and tumors share many attributes, including rapid evolution and adeptness at exploiting mutations. Given this parallel, we then discuss the pro- and anti-tumor roles of A3s, and suggest that lessons learned from studying A3s in the context of anti-viral immunity can be applied to tumor immunotherapy.