Cyanovirin-N (CV-N) is a microbicide candidate that inactivates a wide range of HIV strains by binding to gp120. Production of CV-N, or any protein microbicide, needs to be at extremely high levels and low cost to have an impact on global health. Thus, it is unlikely that fermentor-based systems will be suitable, including recombinant E. coli, where CV-N aggregates and dimers have consistently been found. Transgenic plants may provide a suitable expression system for protein microbicides, as production can be easily and economically scaled up. Here, Nicotiana tabacum was transformed with a gene encoding CV-N to explore proof of concept for the production of CV-N in transgenic plants. Plant-derived rCV-N was recoverable at levels of 130 ng/mg of fresh leaf tissue, or at least 0.85% of total soluble plant protein. Western blot analysis demonstrated that virtually all of the rCV-N was expressed in the desired monomeric form. Functionality was demonstrated by specific binding to gp120 and protection of T-cells from in vitro HIV infection. Hydroponic culturing of transgenic plants demonstrated CV-N rhizosecretion at levels of 0.64 μg/ml hydroponic media after 24 days. Therefore, we suggest that transgenic plants have the potential to provide strategies for large-scale protein microbicide production.
FASEB Journal (2006) 20 (2) pp. 356-358 [doi:10.1096/fj.05-4742fje]