Human papillomavirus-driven immune deviation: challenge and novel opportunity for immunotherapy

Sigrun Smola, Connie Trimble, Peter L. Stern

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


It is now recognized that the immune system can be a key component of restraint and control during the neoplastic process. Human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancers of the anogenital tract and oropharynx represent a significant clinical problem but there is a clear opportunity for immune targeting of the viral oncogene expression that drives cancer development. However, high-risk HPV infection of the target epithelium and the expression of the E6/E7 oncogenes can lead to early compromise of the innate immune system (loss of antigen-presenting cells) facilitating viral persistence and increased risk of cancer. In these circumstances, a succession of interacting and self-reinforcing events mediated through modulation of different immune receptors, chemokine and cytokine responses (CCL20; CCL2; CCR2; IL-6; CCR7; IL-12) further promote the generation of an immune suppressive microenvironment [increased levels of Tregs, Th17, myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) and PD-L1]. The overexpression of E6/E7 expression also compromises the ability to repair cellular DNA, leading to genomic instability, with the acquisition of genetic changes providing for the selection of advantaged cancer cells including additional strategies for immune escape. Therapeutic vaccines targeting the HPV oncogenes have shown some encouraging success in some recent early-phase clinical trials tested in patients with HPV-associated high-grade anogenital lesions. A significant hurdle to success in more advanced disease will be the local and systemic immune suppressive factors. Interventions targeting the different immunosuppressive components can provide opportunity to release existing or generate new and effective antitumour immunity. Treatments that alter the protumour inflammatory environment including toll-like receptor stimulation, inhibition of IL-6-related pathways, immune-checkpoint inhibition, direct modulation of MDSCs, Tregs and macrophages could all be useful in combination with therapeutic HPV vaccination. Future progress in delivering successful immunotherapy will depend on the configuration of treatment protocols in an insightful and timely combination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-82
Number of pages14
JournalTherapeutic Advances in Vaccines and Immunotherapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • T regulatory cells (Tregs)
  • anogenital cancer
  • cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs)
  • immune-checkpoint inhibitors
  • myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs)
  • oropharyngeal cancer
  • therapeutic HPV vaccines
  • tumour microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Drug Discovery


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