Association between toll-like receptor expression and human papillomavirus type 16 persistence

Int J Cancer. 2011 Feb 15;128(4):879-86. doi: 10.1002/ijc.25400.


The mechanisms involved in mucosal immune control of cervical human papillomavirus (HPV) infection remain ill defined. Because toll-like receptors (TLRs) are key players in innate immune responses, we investigated the association between TLR expression and viral persistence or clearance in young women with incident infections with oncogenic HPV types 16 or 51. Messenger RNA expression of TLR1, TLR2, TLR3, TLR4, TLR6, TLR7, TLR8 and TLR9 was measured by quantitative reverse transcription-PCR using human endocervical specimens, collected before and after viral acquisition, in a cohort well characterized for HPV infections. Wilcoxon rank sum test was used to compare the change seen from preinfection to incident infection between women who subsequently cleared infection with those who did not. HPV 16 infections that cleared were significantly (p < 0.05) associated with an increase in expression of the four viral nucleic acid-sensing TLRs (TLR3, TLR7, TLR8 and TLR9) as well as TLR2 upon viral acquisition. Similar associations were not observed for HPV 51. In women who subsequently cleared their HPV 16 infection, changes in TLR1, TLR3, TLR7 and TLR8 expression levels between preincident and incident visits were significantly correlated with parallel changes in the levels of interferon-α2, measured by immunoassay in cervical lavage specimens. This study suggests that dampened TLR expression in the cervical mucosa is a type-specific mechanism by which HPV 16 interferes with innate immune responses, contributing to viral persistence, and that TLR upregulation and resultant cytokine induction is important in subsequent viral clearance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Human papillomavirus 16 / genetics
  • Human papillomavirus 16 / immunology
  • Human papillomavirus 16 / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Interferon-alpha / metabolism
  • Papillomavirus Infections / immunology
  • Papillomavirus Infections / metabolism*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Respiratory Tract Neoplasms / immunology
  • Respiratory Tract Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Respiratory Tract Neoplasms / virology
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Toll-Like Receptors / metabolism*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / immunology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / virology
  • Young Adult


  • Interferon-alpha
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Toll-Like Receptors