PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Cholera toxin B subunit (CTB) is a component of an internationally licensed oral cholera vaccine. The protein induces neutralizing antibodies against the holotoxin, the virulence factor responsible for severe diarrhea. A field clinical trial has suggested that the addition of CTB to killed whole-cell bacteria provides superior short-term protection to whole-cell-only vaccines; however, challenges in CTB biomanufacturing (i.e., cost and scale) hamper its implementation to mass vaccination in developing countries. To provide a potential solution to this issue, we developed a rapid, robust, and scalable CTB production system in plants.,In a preliminary study of expressing original CTB in transgenic Nicotiana benthamiana, the protein was N-glycosylated with plant-specific glycans. Thus, an aglycosylated CTB variant (pCTB) was created and overexpressed via a plant virus vector. Upon additional transgene engineering for retention in the endoplasmic reticulum and optimization of a secretory signal, the yield of pCTB was dramatically improved, reaching >1 g per kg of fresh leaf material. The protein was efficiently purified by simple two-step chromatography. The GM1-ganglioside binding capacity and conformational stability of pCTB were virtually identical to the bacteria-derived original B subunit, as demonstrated in competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, surface plasmon resonance, and fluorescence-based thermal shift assay. Mammalian cell surface-binding was corroborated by immunofluorescence and flow cytometry. pCTB exhibited strong oral immunogenicity in mice, inducing significant levels of CTB-specific intestinal antibodies that persisted over 6 months. Moreover, these antibodies effectively neutralized the cholera holotoxin in vitro.,Taken together, these results demonstrated that pCTB has robust producibility in Nicotiana plants and retains most, if not all, of major biological activities of the original protein. This rapid and easily scalable system may enable the implementation of pCTB to mass vaccination against outbreaks, thereby providing better protection of high-risk populations in developing countries.