Bluetongue is a severe disease of ruminants, notably sheep and cattle. The causal agent, the dsRNA Bluetongue virus, is spread by an insect vector and occurs in its vector’s habitat in temperate climates throughout much of the world. BTV is the type member of genus Orbivirus in the family Reoviridae, with 26 known serotypes. When bluetongue first broke out in the United Kingdom in autumn of 2007, the disease was already rapidly spreading throughout continental Europe, causing high mortality rates in sheep and having a detrimental effect on the livestock trade through trade restrictions and loss of stock. The only effective weapon against the disease is control of the spread of BTV through rigorous vaccination programmes. Currently available commercial vaccines are based on both inactivated virus and live, attenuated strains and protect against a single serotype or multiple serotypes when provided as a cocktail. However, the possibility of recombination between the live vaccine strain(s) and wild-type virus in infected animals, leading to the emergence of new infectious strains has motivated efforts to develop safer vaccines.
One approach in the development of an inherently safe vaccine has been the production of Bluetongue virus-like particles (VLPs). BTV has a nonenveloped icosahedral structure, with four main structural proteins (VP3, VP7, VP5 and VP2) arranged in concentric shells around the segmented double-stranded RNA genome and minor structural and nonstructural proteins involved in virus replication. French et al. have shown that these four structural proteins, expressed in insect cells using a baculovirus expression system, assemble into virus-like particles devoid of nucleic acid.
This paper describes plant-based high-level expression of assembled subcore-, core- and virus-like particles of BTV serotype 8. Purified preparations of the VLPs, consisting of all four structural proteins, elicited an immune response in sheep and provided protective immunity against challenge with a South African BTV-8 field isolate. This demonstrates that plant expression provides an economically viable method for producing complex VLPs, such as those of BTV, with the desired biological properties. It represents a significant advance in the use of plant-based systems for the production of complex biopharmaceuticals. The methods employed could also be applied to other situations where the expression of multiple proteins is required, such as the reconstruction of metabolic pathways.
A method for rapid production of heteromultimeric protein complexes in plants: assembly of protective bluetongue virus-like particles. Plant Biotechnol J. 06 May 2013 doi: 10.1111/pbi.12076
Plant expression systems based on nonreplicating virus-based vectors can be used for the simultaneous expression of multiple genes within the same cell. They therefore have great potential for the production of heteromultimeric protein complexes. This work describes the efficient plant-based production and assembly of Bluetongue virus-like particles (VLPs), requiring the simultaneous expression of four distinct proteins in varying amounts. Such particles have the potential to serve as a safe and effective vaccine against Bluetongue virus (BTV), which causes high mortality rates in ruminants and thus has a severe effect on the livestock trade. Here, VLPs produced and assembled in Nicotiana benthamiana using the cowpea mosaic virus-based HyperTrans (CPMV-HT) and associated pEAQ plant transient expression vector system were shown to elicit a strong antibody response in sheep. Furthermore, they provided protective immunity against a challenge with a South African BTV-8 field isolate. The results show that transient expression can be used to produce immunologically relevant complex heteromultimeric structures in plants in a matter of days. The results have implications beyond the realm of veterinary vaccines and could be applied to the production of VLPs for human use or the coexpression of multiple enzymes for the manipulation of metabolic pathways.