Immunogenicity of Plant-Produced Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Virus-Like Particles (VLPs)

Cervical cancer is ranked fourth among the top cancers in women and is the second most common cancer in low- and middle-income regions, with ~570,000 new cases reported in 2018, which attributed to 84% of worldwide cervical cancer cases. Three commercially available prophylactic Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines are effective at preventing HPV infections. However, these vaccines are expensive due to their complex production systems, therefore limiting their use in developing countries. Recently, the use of plants to produce vaccines has emerged as a cost-effective alternative to conventionally used expression systems. Here, L1 proteins of eight high-risk (HPV 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 45, 52, and 58) and two low risk (HPV 6 and 34) HPV types were successfully expressed in Nicotiana benthamiana, and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) analysis showed the presence of VLPs and/or capsomeres. Immunogenicity studies were conducted in mice utilizing HPV 35, 52, and 58 and showed that type-specific L1-specific antibodies were produced which were able to successfully neutralize homologous HPV pseudovirions in pseudovirion-based neutralization assays (PBNAs). This work demonstrated the potential for using plant-based transient expression systems to produce affordable and immunogenic HPV vaccines, particularly for developing countries.