The Immune Response to Papillomavirus During Infection Persistence and Regression

Merilyn H Hibma*
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

© Merilyn H. Hibma; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http: // which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago, P O Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand; Tel: +64 3 479 7726; Fax: +64 3 479 7744; E-mail:


Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections cause a significant global health burden, predominantly due to HPV-associated cancers. HPV infects only the epidermal cells of cutaneous and mucosal skin, without penetration into the dermal tissues. Infections may persist for months or years, contributed by an array of viral immune evasion mechanisms. However in the majority of cases immunity-based regression of HPV lesions does eventually occur. The role of the innate immune response to HPV in persistence and regression of HPV infection is not well understood. Although an initial inflammatory infiltrate may contribute to disease regression, sustained inflammation at the HPV-induced lesions, characterized by macrophage and neutrophil infiltration, has been observed in persistence. Pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) are important in innate recognition. The double stranded DNA and an L1 and L2 capsid components of the HPV virion are potential PAMPs that can trigger signaling through cellular pattern recognition receptors, including toll-like receptors (TLR). TLR expression is increased in regressing HPV disease but is reduced in persistent lesions, suggesting a role for TLR in HPV regression. With regard to the adaptive immune response, a key indicator of regression in humans is infiltration of the lesion with both CD4 and CD8 T cells. In individuals with persistent lesions, CD8 T cell and immune suppressive regulatory T cells (Tregs) infiltrate the infection site. There is no association between persistence or regression and the presence of serum antibodies to the viral capsid antigens of HPV. There is still much to be learned about the immunological events that trigger regression of HPV disease. Understanding the viral and host factors that influence persistence and regression is important for the development of better immunotherapeutic treatments for HPV-associated disease.

Keywords: Adaptive immunity, epidermis, immune evasion, innate immunity, papillomavirus, persistence, regression..