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J Gen Virol. 2007 May;88(Pt 5):1460-9.

Optimization of human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16) L1 expression in plants: comparison of the suitability of different HPV-16 L1 gene variants and different cell-compartment localization.

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Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Health Science, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.


Virus-like particle-based vaccines for high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPVs) appear to have great promise; however, cell culture-derived vaccines will probably be very expensive. The optimization of expression of different codon-optimized versions of the HPV-16 L1 capsid protein gene in plants has been explored by means of transient expression from a novel suite of Agrobacterium tumefaciens binary expression vectors, which allow targeting of recombinant protein to the cytoplasm, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) or chloroplasts. A gene resynthesized to reflect human codon usage expresses better than the native gene, which expresses better than a plant-optimized gene. Moreover, chloroplast localization allows significantly higher levels of accumulation of L1 protein than does cytoplasmic localization, whilst ER retention was least successful. High levels of L1 (>17% total soluble protein) could be produced via transient expression: the protein assembled into higher-order structures visible by electron microscopy, and a concentrated extract was highly immunogenic in mice after subcutaneous injection and elicited high-titre neutralizing antibodies. Transgenic tobacco plants expressing a human codon-optimized gene linked to a chloroplast-targeting signal expressed L1 at levels up to 11% of the total soluble protein. These are the highest levels of HPV L1 expression reported for plants: these results, and the excellent immunogenicity of the product, significantly improve the prospects of making a conventional HPV vaccine by this means.

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