The study of viral infectivity and detection of viral capsid antigens of the major cervical cancer-associated human papillomavirus (HPV) type, HPV-16, requires knowledge of which epitopes are exposed in clinical specimens of infected tissue or on intact capsids. To define the antigenic epitopes of HPV-16, antisera to 66 overlapping synthetic peptides corresponding to the HPV-16 capsid proteins L1 and L2 and to seven peptide analogues were tested in immunoperoxidase stainings of consecutive sections from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded HPV infected tissue. Antisera against eleven different peptides from L1 and against seven different peptides from L2 recognized the HPV capsid antigen. Most epitopes were only found on the capsid antigen of certain genital HPV types, but four antigenic epitopes in L1 were detectable also in cutaneous wart specimens. All antigenic epitopes in L2 were restricted to genital HPV types and four L2 epitopes were only detectable in HPV-16 or HPV-33 positive specimens. The surface exposure of the antigenic epitopes was investigated by comparing the reactivity of the antipeptide antisera with intact or disrupted virions or capsids of HPV-11, HPV-16 and bovine papillomavirus (BPV). Twenty antipeptide sera from L1 and seven antipeptide sera from L2 were reactive with intact HPV-16 capsids at titres up to 1:146000. Sixteen of these antisera were also reactive with disrupted HPV-16 capsids. Cross-reactivity with disrupted HPV-11 and BPV was detected for eleven and six antisera, respectively, whereas intact HPV-11 or BPV virions showed only weak cross-reactivity. In conclusion, the HPV-16 L1 and L2 capsid proteins contained multiple antigenic epitopes, most of which were shared with one or several additional HPV types.


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