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Vaccine. 2005 Mar 7;23(15):1875-80.

Plant based HIV-1 vaccine candidate: Tat protein produced in spinach.

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Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, 700 E. Butler Avenue, Doylestown, PA 18901, USA.


The HIV-1 Tat protein has been recently explored as a prospective vaccine candidate with broad, subtype non-specific action. We approached the problem of delivery of Tat through the mucosal route by expressing Tat in an edible plant. The tat gene was assembled from synthetic overlapping oligonucleotides, and was subsequently cloned into a plant virus-based vector tobacco mosaic virus (TMV). Spinach plants inoculated with the Tat-producing constructs were collected and fed to mice 7-14 days post inoculation. DNA vaccinations were performed using a gene gun. Codon optimization of the Tat gene expressed in spinach plants resulted in several-fold yield increase as detected in immunoblots, and did not cause severe symptoms in inoculated plants. Mice were fed with the Tat-producing or control vector-inoculated spinach. After three feedings, 1 week apart, 1g per mice, no differences were detected in the growth rate or behavior of the animals fed with these three types of spinach. None of the animals developed measurable Tat antibodies. Following DNA vaccination, however, mice having previously received oral Tat developed higher antibody titers to Tat than did the controls, with the titers peaking at 4 weeks post-vaccination. Codon optimization allows production of up to 300-500 microg of Tat antigen per 1 g of leaf tissue in spinach using a plant virus-based expression system. The plant produced Tat does not seem to have any apparent adverse effect on mice growth or behavior, when fed with spinach for 4 weeks. ELISA data suggested that oral Tat primed for the development of Tat antibodies when mice were subsequently vaccinated with plasmid DNA designed for Tat expression.

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