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Cancer Res. 2004 Aug 1;64(15):5449-55.

Human papillomavirus type 16-positive cervical cancer is associated with impaired CD4+ T-cell immunity against early antigens E2 and E6.

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  • 1Department of Immunohematology and Blood Transfusion, Leiden University Medical Center, 2300 RC Leiden, the Netherlands.


Cervical cancer is the possible outcome of genital infection with high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) and is preceded by a phase of persistent HPV infection during which the host immune system fails to eliminate the virus. Fortunately, the majority of genital HPV infections are cleared before the development of (pre)malignant lesions. Analysis of CD4+ T-helper (Th) immunity against the E2, E6, and E7 antigens of HPV16 in healthy women revealed strong proliferative E2- and E6-specific responses associated with prominent IFN-gamma and interleukin 5 secretion. This indicates that the naturally arising virus-induced immune response displays a mixed Th1/Th2 cytokine profile. Of all HPV16+ cervical cancer patients, approximately half failed to mount a detectable immune response against the HPV16-derived peptides. The other half of the patients showed impaired HPV16-specific proliferative responses, which generally lacked both IFN-gamma and interleukin 5. This indicates that the HPV16-specific CD4+ T-cell response in cervical cancer patients is either absent or severely impaired, despite a relatively good immune status of the patients, as indicated by intact responses against recall antigens. It is highly conceivable that proper CD4+ T-cell help is important for launching an effective immune attack against HPV because infection of cervical epithelia by this virus is, at least initially, not accompanied by gross disturbance of this tissue and/or strong proinflammatory stimuli. Therefore, our observations concerning the lack of functional HPV16-specific CD4+ T-cell immunity in patients with cervical cancer offer a possible explanation for the development of this disease.

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