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Adv Cancer Res. 2001;82:205-38.

Immunity to oncogenic human papillomaviruses.

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Laboratory of Tumor Virus Epidemiology, Microbiology and Tumor Biology Center, Karolinska Institute, S-17177 Stockholm, Sweden.


The establishment of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection as a major cause of several human cancer forms, notably cervical cancer, has spurred development of prophylactic and/or therapeutic HPV vaccines for prevention of cervical neoplasia. Knowledge of the immunity to HPV forms the basis for such endeavors.


A literature review of humoral and cellular immunity to HPV. The overview on human leukocyte antigen (HLA) and cervical cancer was expanded to a formal metaanalysis, where relevant articles were located by Medline search and citation analysis and graded by preassigned quality criteria on study design.


The antibody response to the HPV particle is dominated by a neutralizing antibody response to a typespecific, conformationally dependent immunodominant epitope. Vaccines based on viral particles lacking the viral genome (virus-like particles, VLPs) have been highly successful in preventing and treating HPV infection in several animal model systems. In humans, the serum antibody response to VLPs is stable over time, also after the HPV infection has been cleared, resulting in HPV serology being used as a marker of cumulative HPV exposure in spite of the fact that a significant proportion of HPV-exposed subjects fail to seroconvert. More than 90% of HPV infections will clear spontaneously. The factors that determine whether an HPV infection is cleared or persists and increases the risk for cancer are not known, but cellular immunity is implicated. Several HLA class II haplotypes are associated with cervical cancer: DQw3 increases and DR13 decreases the risk for cervical cancer in general (odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI): 1.25(1.15-1.37) and 0.69 (0.56-0.85), respectively); DR15 increases the risk for HPV16-carrying cancer (OR: 1.47; CI: 1.20-1.81); and DR7 may be either protective or increase the risk. Most cervical cancers have downregulated the expression of at least one HLA class I antigen, whereas class II expression is increased in infected epithelium. A Th2 cytokine profile is associated with progression to cervical cancer. HPV-antigen-specific proliferative responses have been detected in many studies, although it is not entirely clear whether these responses are HPV type specific or may be cross-reactive between HPV types. Specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses were originally reported in only a minority of infected subjects, typically cancer patients, but with advancing technology, specific CTLs can be stimulated from about half of the women with HPV-carrying disease. In animal model systems, CTL responses can mediate clearance.


The antibody response to HPV is a mediator of type-specific protective immunity, which forms the basis for prophylactic vaccine candidates. The cellular immunity to HPV is implicated as an important factor in cervical carcinogenesis, but the main targets and types of responses that mediate HPV clearance are not established.

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