A panel of murine mAb raised against a MS2 replicase/HPV 18 E7 fusion protein included 23 reactive by ELISA with HPV 18 E7 determinants. A total of 19 of the 23 recognized linear epitopes in the N-terminal region of the E7 molecule, while the other four were deduced by binding inhibition assays to recognize conformational determinants in this region. All tested antibodies precipitated a 14-kDa peptide doublet that corresponded with the predicted size of the E7 protein, from HeLa cells, but not from HPV 16 E7 containing CaSki cells. HPV 18 E7 protein was detected by immunolabeling with electron microscopy in both the nucleus and the cytoplasm of HeLa cells with the greater proportion occurring in the cytoplasm. No antibody reacted specifically by indirect immunofluorescence with HeLa cells. Weak cross-reactivity of some mAb with the E6 MS2-replicase fusion protein of HPV 16 was detected by ELISA, but no protein of the appropriate size was immunoprecipitated from CaSki cells. It is concluded that the B cell epitopes on the HPV 18 E7 transforming protein are located in the N-terminal region of the molecule and that some are weakly cross-reactive with HPV 16 E6 protein. E7 protein is either present in HeLa cells at a concentration too low to be detected by indirect immunofluorescence, or the N-terminal epitopes are masked by protein conformation or interaction with cellular or other viral components.

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