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Since human papillomaviruses (HPV) cannot be propagated in cell culture, the generation of infectious virions in vitro is a highly desirable goal. Here we report that pseudovirions can be generated by the assembly of virus-like particles (VLPs) in COS-7 cells containing multiple copies of a marker plasmid. Using recombinant vaccinia viruses, we have obtained spherical VLPs of HPV type 33 (HPV-33) which fractionate into heavy and light VLPs in cesium chloride density gradients. VLPs in the heavy fraction (1.31 g/cm3) carry the plasmid in DNase-resistant form and are capable of transferring the genetic marker located on the plasmid to COS-7 cells in a DNase-resistant way (pseudoinfection). The minor capsid protein L2 is not required for encapsidation but is essential for efficient pseudoinfection. Antiserum to HPV-33 VLPs inhibits VLP-mediated DNA transfer with high efficiency. Antisera to VLPs of HPV-18 and HPV-16 are not neutralizing, although the HPV-16 antiserum exhibited some cross-reactivity with HPV-33 VLPs in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. In a cell binding assay, the titer of the HPV-33 VLP antiserum was 1:200 compared to the neutralization titer of 1:10(5). This indicates that neutralization is essentially due to the inhibition of cellular processes after VLP binding to cells. The encapsidation of marker plasmids into VLPs provides a sensitive and fast assay for the evaluation of neutralizing potentials of antisera against papillomavirus infections.