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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1992 Dec 15;89(24):12180-4.

Papillomavirus L1 major capsid protein self-assembles into virus-like particles that are highly immunogenic.

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Laboratory of Cellular Oncology, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892.


Infection by certain human papillomavirus types is regarded as the major risk factor in the development of cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers of women worldwide. Analysis of the immunogenic and structural features of papillomavirus virions has been hampered by the inability to efficiently propagate the viruses in cultured cells. For instance, it has not been established whether the major capsid protein L1 alone is sufficient for virus particle assembly. In addition, it is not known whether L1, L2 (the minor capsid protein), or both present the immunodominant epitopes required for induction of high-titer neutralizing antibodies. We have expressed the L1 major capsid proteins of bovine papillomavirus type 1 and human papillomavirus type 16 in insect cells via a baculovirus vector and analyzed their conformation and immunogenicity. The L1 proteins were expressed at high levels and assembled into structures that closely resembled papillomavirus virions. The self-assembled bovine papillomavirus L1, in contrast to L1 extracted from recombinant bacteria or denatured virions, also mimicked intact bovine papillomavirus virions in being able to induce high-titer neutralizing rabbit antisera. These results indicate that L1 protein has the intrinsic capacity to assemble into empty capsid-like structures whose immunogenicity is similar to infectious virions. This type of L1 preparation might be considered as a candidate for a serological test to measure antibodies to conformational virion epitopes and for a vaccine to prevent papillomavirus infection.

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