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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Mar 4;100(5):2209-14. Epub 2003 Feb 24.

A plant signal peptide-hepatitis B surface antigen fusion protein with enhanced stability and immunogenicity expressed in plant cells.

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  • 1Department of Plant Biology, Cornell University and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Inc., Ithaca, NY 14853-1801, USA.


The use of transgenic plants to express orally immunogenic protein antigens is an emerging strategy for vaccine biomanufacturing and delivery. This concept has particular suitability for developing countries. One factor that has limited the development of this technology is the relatively modest levels of accumulation of some antigenic proteins in plant tissues. We used fusion protein design to improve expression of the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) by attempting to mimic the process of HBsAg targeting to the endoplasmic reticulum of human liver cells during hepatitis B virus infection. We created a gene encoding a recombinant HBsAg modified to contain a plant signal peptide fused to its amino terminus. The signal peptide from soybean vegetative storage protein vspA (VSP alpha S) directed endoplasmic reticulum targeting of HBsAg in plant cells, but was not cleaved and resulted in enhanced VSP alpha S-HBsAg fusion accumulation. This product was more stable and presented the protective "a" antigenic determinant to significantly higher levels than unmodified native HBsAg expressed in plant cells. It also showed a greater extent of intermolecular disulfide bond formation and formation of virus-like particles. Moreover, VSP alpha S-HBsAg stimulated higher levels of serum IgG than native HBsAg when injected into mice. We conclude that HBsAg tolerates a polypeptide fusion at the amino terminus and that VSP alpha S-HBsAg is an improved antigen for plant-based expression of a subunit vaccine for hepatitis B virus.

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