Study shows an increase in immune response induced by the HPV vaccine in middle-aged men

A study conducted in part by researchers of the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNL) HPV Serology Laboratory showed middle-aged men who received three doses of the quadrivalent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine experienced a robust immune response to vaccine antigens—critical for long-term protection against HPV.

Scientist holding up pipette and sample

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 and 12, and for men and women through age 26. Vaccinations have also been approved for men through age 45.

While HPV vaccines prevent infection against various HPV types, most research around vaccine immune response has looked at HPV-driven cervical cancers in women. However, more research is being done to understand how HPV plays a role in other cancers, such as head and neck and penile cancers, which can occur in men.

Understanding immune response in men

A group of researchers from FNL set out to better understand vaccine immune response in men after they received three doses of the quadrivalent HPV vaccine.  

Cheryl Miller, Troy Kemp, Ligia Pinto, and Yuanji Pan from the HPV Serology Laboratory and Kim Dunham from the Applied and Development Research Directorate, collaborated with Anna Giuliano from the Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, and researchers from the National Institute of Public Health, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, to characterize the quality of immune response in mid-adult aged men.

“Although most of our research has been in women, we are very interested in expanding our work to other HPV-associated cancers, such as oropharyngeal cancers which have a much higher incidence in males,” Miller said. “We completed this research to better understand and characterize vaccine immune responses in males so our knowledge can contribute to prevention of other HPV-associated cancers.”  

Putting years of experience to work  

Pinto’s team has studied immune responses to HPV since 2001, and the work has played an important role in understanding how HPV vaccines work. FNL’s HPV Serology Laboratory is one of the very few laboratories in the world with expertise in this area.

The team developed and optimized an HPV VLP ELISpot based on a previously established ELISpot assay and assessed the associations between antibody avidity—or how strongly antibodies bind to the antigen—and memory B-cell responses in males after receiving the full regimen of the vaccine. 

An important step for vaccine immunogenicity

The investigation showed that 150 men ages 27-45 successfully increased antibody levels and binding to HPV and increased memory B cells to HPV-16, which is critical for immune memory and long-term protection against HPV infections.  

“This work contributes to a better understanding of immune responses induced by the HPV vaccine in mid-adult aged males,” Miller said.

Miller hopes their work can springboard further studies in other populations and new HPV vaccines using the ELISpot and avidity assay to assess vaccine immunogenicity and long-term protection from HPV infection.