New biological research and understanding of Papanicolaou's test

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The development of the Papanicolaou smear test by Dr. George Nicholas Papanicolaou (1883-1962) is one of the most significant achievements in screening for disease and cancer prevention in history. The Papanicolaou smear has been used for screening of cervical cancer since the 1950s. The test is technically straightforward and practical and based on a simple scientific observation: malignant cells have an aberrant nuclear morphology that can be distinguished from benign cells. Here, we review the scientific understanding that has been achieved and continues to be made on the causes and consequences of abnormal nuclear morphology, the basis of Dr. Papanicolaou's invention. The deformed nuclear shape is caused by the loss of lamina and nuclear envelope structural proteins. The consequences of a nuclear envelope defect include chromosomal numerical instability, altered chromatin organization and gene expression, and increased cell mobility because of a malleable nuclear envelope. HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) infection is recognized as the key etiology in the development of cervical cancer. Persistent HPV infection causes disruption of the nuclear lamina, which presents as a change in nuclear morphology detectable by a Papanicolaou smear. Thus, the causes and consequences of nuclear deformation are now linked to the mechanisms of viral carcinogenesis, and are still undergoing active investigation to reveal the details. Recently a statue was installed in front of the Papanicolaou's Cancer Research Building to honor the inventor. Remarkably, the invention nearly 60 years ago by Dr. Papanicolaou still exerts clinical impacts and inspires scientific inquiries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)507-515
Number of pages9
JournalDiagnostic cytopathology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • HPV
  • Lamin A/C
  • Papanicolaou smear
  • aneuploidy
  • carcinomas
  • cervical cancer
  • chromosomal instability
  • diagnosis
  • nuclear budding
  • nuclear deformation
  • nuclear envelope
  • nuclear lamina
  • nuclear morphology
  • polyploidy
  • prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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