Insights into the role of innate immunity in cervicovaginal papillomavirus infection from studies using gene-deficient mice

Carolina Scagnolari, Fabiana Cannella, Alessandra Pierangeli, Rebecca Mellinger Pilgrim, Guido Antonelli, Dayana Rowley, Margaret Wong, Simon Best, Deyin Xing, Richard B.S. Roden, Raphael Viscidi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


We demonstrate that female C57BL/6J mice are susceptible to a transient lower genital tract infection with MmuPV1 mouse papillomavirus and display focal histopathological abnormalities resembling those of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. We took advantage of strains of genetically deficient mice to study in vivo the role of innate immune signaling in the control of papillomavirus. At 4 months, we sacrificed MmuPV1-infected mice and measured viral 757/3139 spliced transcripts by TaqMan reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR), localization of infection by RNAscope in situ hybridization, and histopathological abnormities by hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining. Among mice deficient in receptors for pathogen-associated molecular patterns, MyD88-/- and STING-/- mice had 1,350 and 80 copies of spliced transcripts/μg RNA, respectively, while no viral expression was detected in MAVS-/- and Ripk2-/- mice. Mice deficient in an adaptor molecule, STAT1-/-, for interferon signaling had 46,000 copies/μg RNA. Among mice with targeted deficiencies in the inflammatory response, interleukin-1 receptor knockout (IL-1R-/-) and caspase-1-/- mice had 350 and 30 copies/μg RNA, respectively. Among mice deficient in chemokine receptors, CCR6-/- mice had 120 copies/μg RNA, while CXCR2-/- and CXCR3-/- mice were negative. RNAscope confirmed focal infection in MyD88-/-, STAT1-/-, and CCR6-/- mice but was negative for other gene-deficient mice. Histological abnormalities were seen only in the latter mice. Our findings and the literature support a working model of innate immunity to papillomaviruses involving the activation of a MyD88-dependent pathway and IL-1 receptor signaling, control of viral replication by interferon-stimulated genes, and clearance of virus-transformed dysplastic cells by the action of the CCR6/CCL20 axis. IMPORTANCE Papillomaviruses infect stratified squamous epithelia, and the viral life cycle is linked to epithelial differentiation. Additionally, changes occur in viral and host gene expression, and immune cells are activated to modulate the infectious process. In vitro studies with keratinocytes cannot fully model the complex viral and host responses and do not reflect the contribution of local and migrating immune cells. We show that female C57BL/6J mice are susceptible to a transient papillomavirus cervicovaginal infection, and mice deficient in select genes involved in innate immune responses are susceptible to persistent infection with variable manifestations of histopathological abnormalities. The results of our studies support a working model of innate immunity to papillomaviruses, and the model provides a framework for more in-depth studies. A better understanding of mechanisms of early viral clearance and the development of approaches to induce clearance will be important for cancer prevention and the treatment of HPV-related diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00087-20
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Innate immunity
  • Papillomaviruses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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