The cottontail rabbit papillomavirus (CRPV)/rabbit model has been used to study oncogenicity and immunogenicity of different antigens from the papillomavirus genome and has therefore served as a preclinical model for the development of preventive and therapeutic vaccines against papillomavirus infections. One unique property of the CRPV model is that infection can be initiated using viral DNA. This property allows for the functional testing of viral mutants in vivo. We have introduced point mutations, insertions and deletions into all of the different coding and non-coding regions of the CRPV genome and have tested their infectivity in this model. We found that the majority of the mutant genomes retained viability and could induce papillomas in domestic rabbits. These data indicated that the CRPV genome is tolerant of many modifications without compromising its ability to initiate skin papillomas. In combination with our recently established HLA-A2.1 transgenic rabbit model, this plasticity allows us to extend the utility of the CRPV/rabbit model to the screening of HLA-A2.1 restricted epitopes from other human viral and tumor antigens.
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