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N-glycosylation of cholera toxin B subunit in Nicotiana benthamiana: impacts on host stress response, production yield and vaccine potential

Hamorsky, KT;Kouokam, JC;Jurkiewicz, JM;Nelson, B;Moore, LJ;Husk, AS;Kajiura, H;Fujiyama, K;Matoba, N;

Plant-based transient overexpression systems enable rapid and scalable production of subunit vaccines. Previously, we have shown that cholera toxin B subunit (CTB), an oral cholera vaccine antigen, is N-glycosylated upon expression in transgenic Nicotiana benthamiana. Here, we found that overexpression of aglycosylated CTB by agroinfiltration of a tobamoviral vector causes massive tissue necrosis and poor accumulation unless retained in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). However, the re-introduction of N-glycosylation to its original or an alternative site significantly relieved the necrosis and provided a high CTB yield without ER retention. Quantitative gene expression analysis of PDI, BiP, bZIP60, SKP1, 26S proteasome and PR1a, and the detection of ubiquitinated CTB polypeptides revealed that N-glycosylation significantly relieved ER stress and hypersensitive response, and facilitated the folding/assembly of CTB. The glycosylated CTB (gCTB) was characterized for potential vaccine use. Glycan profiling revealed that gCTB contained approximately 38% plant-specific glycans. gCTB retained nanomolar affinity to GM1-ganglioside with only marginal reduction of physicochemical stability and induced an anti-cholera holotoxin antibody response comparable to native CTB in a mouse oral immunization study. These findings demonstrated gCTB's potential as an oral immunogen and point to a potential role of N-glycosylation in increasing recombinant protein yields in plants.