Fimbrial subunit protein FaeG expressed in transgenic tobacco inhibits the binding of F4ac Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli to porcine enterocytes

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Plants offer a promising alternative for the production of foreign proteins for pharmaceutical purposes in tissues that are consumed as food and/or feed. Our long-term strategy is to develop edible vaccines against piglet diarrhoea caused by enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (F4 ETEC) in feed plants. In this work, we isolated a gene, faeG, encoding for a major F4ac fimbrial subunit protein. Our goal was to test whether the FaeG protein, when isolated from its fimbrial background and produced in a plant cell, would retain the key properties of an oral vaccine, that is, stability in gastrointestinal conditions, binding to intestinal receptors and inhibition of the F4 ETEC attachment. For this purpose, tobacco was first transformed with a faeG construct that included a transit peptide encoding sequence to target the FaeG protein to the chloroplast. The best transgenic lines produced FaeG protein in amounts of 1% total soluble protein. The stability of the plant-produced FaeG was tested in fluids simulating piglet gastric (SGF) and intestinal (SIF) conditions. Plant-produced FaeG proved to be stable up to 2 h under these conditions. The binding and inhibition properties were tested with isolated piglet villi. These results showed that the plant-produced FaeG could bind to the receptors on the villi and subsequently inhibit F4 ETEC binding in a dose-dependent manner. Thus, the first two prerequisites for the development of an oral vaccine have been met.

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