Capsomers were produced in bacteria as glutathione-S-transferase (GST) fusion proteins with human papillomavirus type 16 L1 lacking the first nine and final 29 residues (GST-HPV16L1Δ) alone or linked with residues 13-47 of HPV18, HPV31 and HPV45 L2 in tandem (GST-HPV16L1Δ-L2x3). Subcutaneous immunization of mice with GST-HPV16L1Δ or GST-HPV16L1Δ-L2x3 in alum and monophosphoryl lipid A induced similarly high titers of HPV16 neutralizing antibodies. GST-HPV16L1Δ-L2x3 also elicited moderate L2-specific antibody titers. Intravaginal challenge studies showed that immunization of mice with GST-HPV16 L1Δ or GST-HPV16L1Δ-L2x3 capsomers, like Cervarix®, provided complete protection against HPV16. Conversely, vaccination with GST-HPV16 L1Δ capsomers failed to protect against HPV18 challenge, whereas mice immunized with either GST-HPV16L1Δ-L2x3 capsomers or Cervarix® were each completely protected. Thus, while the L2-specific response was moderate, it did not interfere with immunity to L1 in the context of GST-HPV16L1Δ-L2x3 and is sufficient to mediate L2-dependent protection against an experimental vaginal challenge with HPV18.
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