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Production of Functionally Active and Immunogenic Non-Glycosylated Protective Antigen from Bacillus anthracis in Nicotiana benthamiana by Co-Expression with Peptide-N-Glycosidase F (PNGase F) of Flavobacterium meningosepticum

Mamedov, T;Chichester, JA;Jones, RM;Ghosh, A;Coffin, MV;Herschbach, K;Prokhnevsky, AI;Streatfield, SJ;Yusibov, V;

Bacillus anthracis has long been considered a potential biological warfare agent, and therefore, there is a need for a safe, low-cost and highly efficient anthrax vaccine with demonstrated long-term stability for mass vaccination in case of an emergency. Many efforts have been made towards developing an anthrax vaccine based on recombinant protective antigen (rPA) of B. anthracis, a key component of the anthrax toxin, produced using different expression systems. Plants represent a promising recombinant protein production platform due to their relatively low cost, rapid scalability and favorable safety profile. Previous studies have shown that full-length rPA produced in Nicotiana benthamiana (pp-PA83) is immunogenic and can provide full protection against lethal spore challenge; however, further improvement in the potency and stability of the vaccine candidate is necessary. PA of B. anthracis is not a glycoprotein in its native host; however, this protein contains potential N-linked glycosylation sites, which can be aberrantly glycosylated during expression in eukaryotic systems including plants. This glycosylation could affect the availability of certain key epitopes either due to masking or misfolding of the protein. Therefore, a non-glycosylated form of pp-PA83 was engineered and produced in N. benthamiana using an in vivo deglycosylation approach based on co-expression of peptide-N-glycosidase F (PNGase F) from Flavobacterium meningosepticum. For comparison, versions of pp-PA83 containing point mutations in six potential N-glycosylation sites were also engineered and expressed in N. benthamiana. The in vivo deglycosylated pp-PA83 (pp-dPA83) was shown to have in vitro activity, in contrast to glycosylated pp-PA83, and to induce significantly higher levels of toxin-neutralizing antibody responses in mice compared with glycosylated pp-PA83, in vitro deglycosylated pp-PA83 or the mutated versions of pp-PA83. These results suggest that pp-dPA83 may offer advantages in terms of dose sparing and enhanced immunogenicity as a promising candidate for a safe, effective and low-cost subunit vaccine against anthrax.