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PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33010. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033010. Epub 2012 Mar 19.

Transient expression of hemagglutinin antigen from low pathogenic avian influenza A (H7N7) in Nicotiana benthamiana.

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  • 1Section for Biomaterials and Medicinal Chemistry, School of Natural Sciences, Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden.


The influenza A virus is of global concern for the poultry industry, especially the H5 and H7 subtypes as they have the potential to become highly pathogenic for poultry. In this study, the hemagglutinin (HA) of a low pathogenic avian influenza virus of the H7N7 subtype isolated from a Swedish mallard Anas platyrhynchos was sequenced, characterized and transiently expressed in Nicotiana benthamiana. Recently, plant expression systems have gained interest as an alternative for the production of vaccine antigens. To examine the possibility of expressing the HA protein in N. benthamiana, a cDNA fragment encoding the HA gene was synthesized de novo, modified with a Kozak sequence, a PR1a signal peptide, a C-terminal hexahistidine (6×His) tag, and an endoplasmic retention signal (SEKDEL). The construct was cloned into a Cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV)-based vector (pEAQ-HT) and the resulting pEAQ-HT-HA plasmid, along with a vector (pJL3:p19) containing the viral gene-silencing suppressor p19 from Tomato bushy stunt virus, was agro-infiltrated into N. benthamiana. The highest gene expression of recombinant plant-produced, uncleaved HA (rHA0), as measured by quantitative real-time PCR was detected at 6 days post infiltration (dpi). Guided by the gene expression profile, rHA0 protein was extracted at 6 dpi and subsequently purified utilizing the 6×His tag and immobilized metal ion adsorption chromatography. The yield was 0.2 g purified protein per kg fresh weight of leaves. Further molecular characterizations showed that the purified rHA0 protein was N-glycosylated and its identity confirmed by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. In addition, the purified rHA0 exhibited hemagglutination and hemagglutination inhibition activity indicating that the rHA0 shares structural and functional properties with native HA protein of H7 influenza virus. Our results indicate that rHA0 maintained its native antigenicity and specificity, providing a good source of vaccine antigen to induce immune response in poultry species.

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