The prophylactic papillomavirus vaccines currently in clinical trials are composed of viral L1 capsid protein that is synthesized in eukaryotic expression systems and purified in the form of virus-like particles (VLPs). To evaluate whether VLPs are necessary for effective vaccination, we expressed the L1 protein as a glutathione S-transferase (GST) fusion protein in Escherichia coli and assayed its immunogenic activity in an established canine oral papillomavirus (COPV) model that previously validated the efficacy of VLP vaccines. The GST-COPV L1 fusion protein formed pentamers, but these capsomere-like structures did not assemble into VLPs. Despite the lack of VLP formation, the GST-COPV L1 protein retained its native conformation as determined by reactivity with conformation-specific anti-COPV antibodies. Most importantly, the GST-COPV L1 pentamers completely protected dogs from high-dose viral infection of their oral mucosa. L1 fusion proteins expressed in bacteria represent an economical alternative to VLPs as a human papillomavirus vaccine.