Background In the past decade, cervical cancer has gone from being the second to the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, but remains the second most common in developing countries. This cancer is most commonly caused by high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV), mainly type 16 (HPV16), which are sexually transmitted. This study aimed to investigate the usefulness of a cyclic synthetic peptide designed from the major L1 capsid protein of HPV16 for detecting anti-HPV16 antibodies.
Methods We designed and synthetized a peptide that corresponds to the full sequence of the surface-exposed FG loop. We tested the antigenicity of the linear and the cyclic peptides against HPV16 L1 monoclonal antibodies. We used ELISA to detect anti-peptide antibodies in sera and cervical secretions of 179 Tunisian women, and we applied polymerase chain reaction and direct sequencing methods to detect and genotype HPV DNA.
Results Both the linear and the cyclic peptides were recognized by the same neutralizing monoclonal antibodies, but the cyclic peptide was more reactive with human sera. The prevalence of the anti-peptide antibodies in sera was higher in women with low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (LGSIL) than in women with high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HGSIL) (44% and 15%, respectively). This contrasts with HPV16 DNA prevalence. Compared to women from the general population, systemic IgG prevalence was significantly higher among sex workers (25%; P=0.002) and women with LGSIL (44%; P=0.001). In addition, systemic IgA and cervical IgG prevalence was higher among sex workers only (p=0.002 and P=0.001 respectively). We did not observe anti-peptide IgG antibodies in women with a current HPV16 infection.
Conclusion Anti-peptide IgG in sera or in cervical secretions could be markers of an effective natural immunization against HPV16. This may open novel perspectives for monitoring vaccinated women and for the design of synthetic peptide-based vaccines.