Immune responses against human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and evasion of host defense in cervical cancer

J Infect Chemother. 2012 Dec;18(6):807-15. doi: 10.1007/s10156-012-0485-5. Epub 2012 Nov 3.


Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most important etiological factor for cervical cancer. A recent study demonstrated that more than 20 HPV types were thought to be oncogenic for uterine cervical cancer. Notably, more than one-half of women show cervical HPV infections soon after their sexual debut, and about 90 % of such infections are cleared within 3 years. Immunity against HPV might be important for elimination of the virus. The innate immune responses involving macrophages, natural killer cells, and natural killer T cells may play a role in the first line of defense against HPV infection. In the second line of defense, adaptive immunity via cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) targeting HPV16 E2 and E6 proteins appears to eliminate cells infected with HPV16. However, HPV can evade host immune responses. First, HPV does not kill host cells during viral replication and therefore neither presents viral antigen nor induces inflammation. HPV16 E6 and E7 proteins downregulate the expression of type-1 interferons (IFNs) in host cells. The lack of co-stimulatory signals by inflammatory cytokines including IFNs during antigen recognition may induce immune tolerance rather than the appropriate responses. Moreover, HPV16 E5 protein downregulates the expression of HLA-class 1, and it facilitates evasion of CTL attack. These mechanisms of immune evasion may eventually support the establishment of persistent HPV infection, leading to the induction of cervical cancer. Considering such immunological events, prophylactic HPV16 and 18 vaccine appears to be the best way to prevent cervical cancer in women who are immunized in adolescence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Models, Immunological
  • Papillomaviridae / immunology*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / immunology*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / virology*