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1.  Improved Production Efficiency of Virus-Like Particles by the Baculovirus Expression Vector System 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(10):e0140039.
Vaccines based on virus-like particles (VLPs) have proven effective in humans and animals. In this regard, the baculovirus expression vector system (BEVS) is one of the technologies of choice to generate such highly immunogenic vaccines. The extended use of these vaccines for human and animal populations is constrained because of high production costs, therefore a significant improvement in productivity is crucial to ensure their commercial viability. Here we describe the use of the previously described baculovirus expression cassette, called TB, to model the production of two VLP-forming vaccine antigens in insect cells. Capsid proteins from porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2 Cap) and from the calicivirus that causes rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHDV VP60) were expressed in insect cells using baculoviruses genetically engineered with the TB expression cassette. Productivity was compared to that obtained using standard counterpart vectors expressing the same proteins under the control of the polyhedrin promoter. Our results demonstrate that the use of the TB expression cassette increased the production yields of these vaccine antigens by around 300% with respect to the standard vectors. The recombinant proteins produced by TB-modified vectors were fully functional, forming VLPs identical in size and shape to those generated by the standard baculoviruses, as determined by electron microscopy analysis. The use of the TB expression cassette implies a simple modification of the baculovirus vectors that significantly improves the cost efficiency of VLP-based vaccine production, thereby facilitating the commercial viability and broad application of these vaccines for human and animal health.
PMCID: PMC4601761  PMID: 26458221
2.  Significant Productivity Improvement of the Baculovirus Expression Vector System by Engineering a Novel Expression Cassette 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e96562.
Here we describe the development of a baculovirus vector expression cassette containing rearranged baculovirus-derived genetic regulatory elements. This newly designed expression cassette conferred significant production improvements to the baculovirus expression vector system (BEVS), including prolonged cell integrity after infection, improved protein integrity, and around 4-fold increase in recombinant protein production yields in insect cells with respect to a standard baculovirus vector. The expression cassette consisted of a cDNA encoding for the baculovirus transactivation factors IE1 and IE0, expressed under the control of the polyhedrin promoter, and a homologous repeated transcription enhancer sequence operatively cis-linked to the p10 promoter or to chimeric promoters containing p10. The prolonged cell integrity observed in cells infected by baculoviruses harbouring the novel expression cassette reduced the characteristic proteolysis and aberrant forms frequently found in baculovirus-derived recombinant proteins. The new expression cassette developed here has the potential to significantly improve the productivity of the BEVS.
PMCID: PMC4019511  PMID: 24824596
3.  Head-to-Head Comparison of Three Vaccination Strategies Based on DNA and Raw Insect-Derived Recombinant Proteins against Leishmania 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51181.
Parasitic diseases plague billions of people among the poorest, killing millions annually, and causing additional millions of disability-adjusted life years lost. Leishmaniases affect more than 12 million people, with over 350 million people at risk. There is an urgent need for efficacious and cheap vaccines and treatments against visceral leishmaniasis (VL), its most severe form. Several vaccination strategies have been proposed but to date no head-to-head comparison was undertaken to assess which is the best in a clinical model of the disease. We simultaneously assayed three vaccination strategies against VL in the hamster model, using KMPII, TRYP, LACK, and PAPLE22 vaccine candidate antigens. Four groups of hamsters were immunized using the following approaches: 1) raw extracts of baculovirus-infected Trichoplusia ni larvae expressing individually one of the four recombinant proteins (PROT); 2) naked pVAX1 plasmids carrying the four genes individually (DNA); 3) a heterologous prime-boost (HPB) strategy involving DNA followed by PROT (DNA-PROT); and 4) a Control including empty pVAX1 plasmid followed by raw extract of wild-type baculovirus-infected T. ni larvae. Hamsters were challenged with L. infantum promastigotes and maintained for 20 weeks. While PROT vaccine was not protective, DNA vaccination achieved protection in spleen. Only DNA-PROT vaccination induced significant NO production by macrophages, accompanied by a significant parasitological protection in spleen and blood. Thus, the DNA-PROT strategy elicits strong immune responses and high parasitological protection in the clinical model of VL, better than its corresponding naked DNA or protein versions. Furthermore, we show that naked DNA coupled with raw recombinant proteins produced in insect larvae biofactories –the cheapest way of producing DNA-PROT vaccines– is a practical and cost-effective way for potential “off the shelf” supplying vaccines at very low prices for the protection against leishmaniases, and possibly against other parasitic diseases affecting the poorest of the poor.
PMCID: PMC3517401  PMID: 23236448
4.  DNA Vaccination Partially Protects against African Swine Fever Virus Lethal Challenge in the Absence of Antibodies 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e40942.
The lack of available vaccines against African swine fever virus (ASFV) means that the evaluation of new immunization strategies is required. Here we show that fusion of the extracellular domain of the ASFV Hemagglutinin (sHA) to p54 and p30, two immunodominant structural viral antigens, exponentially improved both the humoral and the cellular responses induced in pigs after DNA immunization. However, immunization with the resulting plasmid (pCMV-sHAPQ) did not confer protection against lethal challenge with the virulent E75 ASFV-strain. Due to the fact that CD8+ T-cell responses are emerging as key components for ASFV protection, we designed a new plasmid construct, pCMV-UbsHAPQ, encoding the three viral determinants above mentioned (sHA, p54 and p30) fused to ubiquitin, aiming to improve Class I antigen presentation and to enhance the CTL responses induced. As expected, immunization with pCMV-UbsHAPQ induced specific T-cell responses in the absence of antibodies and, more important, protected a proportion of immunized-pigs from lethal challenge with ASFV. In contrast with control pigs, survivor animals showed a peak of CD8+ T-cells at day 3 post-infection, coinciding with the absence of viremia at this time point. Finally, an in silico prediction of CTL peptides has allowed the identification of two SLA I-restricted 9-mer peptides within the hemagglutinin of the virus, capable of in vitro stimulating the specific secretion of IFNγ when using PBMCs from survivor pigs. Our results confirm the relevance of T-cell responses in protection against ASF and open new expectations for the future development of more efficient recombinant vaccines against this disease.
PMCID: PMC3458849  PMID: 23049728
5.  Rotavirus A-specific single-domain antibodies produced in baculovirus-infected insect larvae are protective in vivo 
BMC Biotechnology  2012;12:59.
Single-domain antibodies (sdAbs), also known as nanobodies or VHHs, are characterized by high stability and solubility, thus maintaining the affinity and therapeutic value provided by conventional antibodies. Given these properties, VHHs offer a novel alternative to classical antibody approaches. To date, VHHs have been produced mainly in E. coli, yeast, plants and mammalian cells. To apply the single-domain antibodies as a preventive or therapeutic strategy to control rotavirus infections in developing countries (444,000 deaths in children under 5 years of age) has to be minimized their production costs.
Here we describe the highly efficient expression of functional VHHs by the Improved Baculovirus Expression System (IBES® technology), which uses a baculovirus expression vector in combination with Trichoplusia ni larvae as living biofactories. Two VHHs, named 3B2 and 2KD1, specific for the inner capsid protein VP6 of Group A rotavirus, were expressed in insect larvae. The IBES® technology achieved very high expression of 3B2 and 2KD1, reaching 2.62% and 3.63% of the total soluble protein obtained from larvae, respectively. These expression levels represent up to 257 mg/L of protein extract after insect processing (1 L extract represents about 125 g of insect biomass or about 375 insect larvae). Larva-derived antibodies were fully functional when tested in vitro and in vivo, neutralizing Group A rotaviruses and protecting offspring mice against rotavirus-induced diarrhea.
Our results open up the possibility of using insects as living biofactories (IBES® technology) for the cost-efficient production of these and other fully functional VHHs to be used for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes, thereby eliminating concerns regarding the use of bacterial or mammalian cells. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that insects have been used as living biofactories to produce a VHH molecule.
PMCID: PMC3444942  PMID: 22953695
Single-domain antibodies; Therapeutic molecule; Neutralization; Rotavirus A; Insect; Baculovirus; IBES®technology
6.  Humoral and In Vivo Cellular Immunity against the Raw Insect-Derived Recombinant Leishmania infantum Antigens KMPII, TRYP, LACK, and papLe22 in Dogs from an Endemic Area 
Leishmania infantum causes visceral leishmaniasis, a severe zoonotic and systemic disease that is fatal if left untreated. Identification of the antigens involved in Leishmania-specific protective immune response is a research priority for the development of effective control measures. For this purpose, we evaluated, in 27 dogs from an enzootic zone, specific humoral and cellular immune response by delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) skin test both against total L. infantum antigen and the raw Trichoplusia ni insect-derived kinetoplastid membrane protein-11 (rKMPII), tryparedoxin peroxidase (rTRYP), Leishmania homologue of receptors for activated C kinase (rLACK), and 22-kDa potentially aggravating protein of Leishmania (rpapLe22) antigens from this parasite. rTRYP induced the highest number of positive DTH responses (55% of leishmanin skin test [LST]-positive dogs), showing that TRYP antigen is an important T cell immunogen, and it could be a promising vaccine candidate against this disease. When TRYP-DTH and KMPII-DTH tests were evaluated in parallel, 82% of LST-positive dogs were detected, suggesting that both antigens could be considered as components of a standardized DTH immunodiagnostic tool for dogs.
PMCID: PMC2990046  PMID: 21118936
7.  Dynamics and Predictive Potential of Antibodies against Insect-Derived Recombinant Leishmania infantum Proteins during Chemotherapy of Naturally Infected Dogs 
A predictive marker for the success treatment of canine leishmaniasis is required for the application of a more rational therapy protocol, which must improve the probability of cure and reduce Leishmania resistance to drugs. We investigated the dynamics and predictive value of antibodies against insect-derived recombinant L. infantum proteins rKMPII and rTRYP by using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay with retrospective serum samples from 36 dogs during treatment of canine leishmaniasis. In the entire group of dogs, concentrations of antibodies against rKMPII and rTRYP significantly decreased earlier than concentrations of antibodies against crude total Leishmania antigen (one versus six months), which suggested that the dynamics of antibodies against recombinant proteins may be useful for assessing clinical improvement after treatment. Interestingly, decreases in antibody concentrations against rKMPII occurred earlier in disease-free dogs than in dogs that remain clinically ill one year after beginning of treatment, which suggested that these antibodies may be useful for predicting disease-free survival one year after the beginning of therapy against canine leishmaniasis.
PMCID: PMC2861386  PMID: 20439957
8.  Serological Immunoassay for Detection of Hepatitis E Virus on the Basis of Genotype 3 Open Reading Frame 2 Recombinant Proteins Produced in Trichoplusia ni Larvae▿  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2009;47(10):3276-3282.
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a major cause of acute hepatitis in humans, and strains of genotypes 1 and 2 are endemic in many regions with suboptimal sanitary conditions. In many industrialized countries, HEV strains of genotype 3 are highly endemic in swine, and an increased number of autochthonous infections with HEV genotype 3 strains have been reported lately. Serological studies of HEV infection are often conducted with commercial assays based on peptides and recombinant proteins of HEV genotype 1 and 2 strains. For some patients with proven HEV genotype 3 infections, these assays failed to detect specific antibodies, and they are not applicable or validated for the detection of anti-HEV antibodies in swine. To elucidate the incidence of hepatitis E in regions where HEV genotype 3 infections can be expected, and to study the seroprevalence of HEV in swine, new tools with broad specificity for all genotypes of HEV are needed. We present the expression and partial characterization of recombinant HEV genotype 3 open reading frame 2 (ORF-2) proteins and their usefulness as diagnostic antigens in detecting anti-HEV antibodies in humans and swine with proven HEV genotype 3 infections. The recombinant antigens were produced at relatively high yields and at low cost upon infection of Trichoplusia ni larvae with recombinant baculoviruses expressing recombinant HEV genotype 3 ORF-2 proteins. The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay based on the recombinant proteins showed good specificity and sensitivity for anti-HEV genotype 3 immunoglobulin G detection in human and swine sera. These recombinant HEV genotype 3 ORF-2 proteins might be added to diagnostic kits containing HEV genotype 1 and 2 antigens in order to develop a broadly sensitive new tool for the diagnosis of hepatitis E.
PMCID: PMC2756903  PMID: 19656986
9.  The MyD116 African Swine Fever Virus Homologue Interacts with the Catalytic Subunit of Protein Phosphatase 1 and Activates Its Phosphatase Activity▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(6):2923-2929.
The DP71L protein of African swine fever virus (ASFV) shares sequence similarity with the herpes simplex virus ICP34.5 protein over a C-terminal domain. We showed that the catalytic subunit of protein phosphatase 1 (PP1) interacts specifically with the ASFV DP71L protein in a yeast two-hybrid screen. The chimeric full-length DP71L protein, from ASFV strain Badajoz 71 (BA71V), fused to glutathione S-transferase (DP71L-GST) was expressed in Escherichia coli and shown to bind specifically to the PP1-α catalytic subunit expressed as a histidine fusion protein (6×His-PP1α) in E. coli. The functional effects of this interaction were investigated by measuring the levels of PP1 and PP2A in ASFV-infected Vero cells. This showed that infection with wild-type ASFV strain BA71V activated PP1 between two- and threefold over that of mock-infected cells. This activation did not occur in cells infected with the BA71V isolate in which the DP71L gene had been deleted, suggesting that expression of DP71L leads to PP1 activation. In contrast, no effect was observed on the activity of PP2A following ASFV infection. We showed that infection of cells with wild-type BA71V virus resulted in decreased phosphorylation of the α subunit of eukaryotic initiation factor 2 (eIF-2α). ICP34.5 recruits PP1 to dephosphorylate the α subunit of eukaryotic translational initiation factor 2 (also known as eIF-2α); possibly the ASFV DP71L protein has a similar function.
PMCID: PMC1865990  PMID: 17215279
10.  African Swine Fever Virus Protein p54 Interacts with the Microtubular Motor Complex through Direct Binding to Light-Chain Dynein 
Journal of Virology  2001;75(20):9819-9827.
Dynein is a minus-end-directed microtubule-associated motor protein involved in cargo transport in the cytoplasm. African swine fever virus (ASFV), a large DNA virus, hijacks the microtubule motor complex cellular transport machinery during virus infection of the cell through direct binding of virus protein p54 to the light chain of cytoplasmic dynein (LC8). Interaction of p54 and LC8 occurs both in vitro and in cells, and the two proteins colocalize at the microtubular organizing center during viral infection. p50/dynamitin, a dominant-negative inhibitor of dynein-dynactin function, impeded ASFV infection, suggesting an essential role for dynein during virus infection. A 13-amino-acid domain of p54 was sufficient for binding to LC8, an SQT motif within this domain being critical for this binding. Direct binding of a viral structural protein to LC8, a small molecule of the dynein motor complex, could constitute a molecular mechanism for microtubule-mediated virus transport.
PMCID: PMC114554  PMID: 11559815
11.  Functionality and Cell Anchorage Dependence of the African Swine Fever Virus Gene A179L, a Viral bcl-2 Homolog, in Insect Cells 
Journal of Virology  1998;72(12):10227-10233.
The African swine fever virus gene A179L has been shown to be a functional member of the ced9/bcl-2 family of apoptosis inhibitors in mammalian cell lines. In this work we have expressed the A179L gene product (p21) under the control of the baculovirus polyhedrin promoter using a baculovirus system. Expression of the A179L gene neither altered the baculovirus replication phenotype nor delayed the shutoff of cellular protein synthesis, but it extended the survival of the infected insect cells to very late times postinfection. The increase in cell survival rates correlated with a marked apoptosis reduction after baculovirus infection. Interestingly, prevention of apoptosis was observed when recombinant baculovirus infections were carried out in monolayer cell cultures but not when cells were infected in suspension, suggesting a cell anchorage dependence for p21 function in insect cells. Cell survival was enhanced under optimal conditions of cell attachment and cell-to-cell contact as provided by extracellular matrix components or poly-d-lysine. Since it was observed that cytoskeleton organization varied depending on culture conditions of insect cells (grown in monolayer versus grown in suspension), these results suggested that A179L might regulate apoptosis in insect cells only when the cytoskeletal support of intracellular signaling is maintained upon cell adhesion. Thus, cell shape and cytoskeleton status might allow variations in intracellular transduction of signals related to cell survival in virus-infected cells.
PMCID: PMC110577  PMID: 9811766

Results 1-11 (11)