Cervical cancer is strongly associated with infection by oncogenic forms of human papillomavirus (HPV). Although most women are able to clear an HPV infection, some develop persistent infections that may lead to cancer. The determinants of persistent infection are largely unknown. We have previously shown that women developing carcinoma in situ of the cervix uteri have higher titers of HPV 16 long before development of cervical neoplasia, indicating that the immune response to HPV is important in determining the outcome of an infection. The HLA class II alleles DRB1*1501 and DQB1*0602 have previously been associated with an increased risk of HPV infection, and carriers of these alleles also tend to have more long-term infections. Together these results indicate that certain HLA alleles may affect the ability to control the HPV copy number. To evaluate this possibility, we studied the HLA class II DRB1*1501-DQB1*0602 haplotype, as well as the alleles individually, and the HPV 16 titer in 928 women from a retrospective case-control study (441 cases and 487 controls). Carriers of the haplotype DRB1*1501-DQB1*0602 allele have a significantly higher HPV 16 titer compared to noncarriers (t-test with unequal variance, p = 0.017). An association was found between the HLA haplotype carrier frequency and HPV 16 titer (Mantel-Haenszel statistics p = 0.005). To study whether titer is related to the persistency of infection, women were divided into groups with long-term and short-term infection. A strong correlation is seen between long-term infection and high viral load and between short-term infection and low viral load. These results show that host genetic factors, e.g., variation at the HLA class II loci studied, may affect the immune reaction to the virus and thereby indirectly increase the susceptibility to carcinoma in situ of the cervix uteri.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.