Self-assembly of hexahistidine-tagged tobacco etch virus capsid protein into microfilaments that induce IgG2-specific response against a soluble porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus chimeric protein
© The Author(s). 2016
Received: 5 July 2016
Accepted: 17 November 2016
Published: 29 November 2016
Assembly of recombinant capsid proteins into virus-like particles (VLPs) still represents an interesting challenge in virus-based nanotechnologies. The structure of VLPs has gained importance for the development and design of new adjuvants and antigen carriers. The potential of Tobacco etch virus capsid protein (TEV CP) as adjuvant has not been evaluated to date.
Two constructs for TEV CP expression in Escherichia coli were generated: a wild-type version (TEV-CP) and a C-terminal hexahistidine (His)-tagged version (His-TEV-CP). Although both versions were expressed in the soluble fraction of E. coli lysates, only His-TEV-CP self-assembled into micrometric flexuous filamentous VLPs. In addition, the His-tag enabled high yields and facilitated purification of TEV VLPs. These TEV VLPs elicited broader IgG2-specific antibody response against a novel porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) protein when compared to the potent IgG1 response induced by the protein alone.
His-TEV CP was purified by immobilized metal affinity chromatography and assembled into VLPs, some of them reaching 2-μm length. TEV VLPs administered along with PRRSV chimeric protein changed the IgG2/IgG1 ratio against the chimeric protein, suggesting that TEV CP can modulate the immune response against a soluble antigen.
KeywordsTobacco etch virus Capsid protein Virus-like particles Hexahistidine tag Adjuvant Chimeric protein
The structural proteins of some viruses occasionally mimic the three-dimensional nature of an actual virus while lacking the virus genome packaged inside its capsid . These structures, also called virus-like particles (VLPs), apart from bearing self-assembly properties, feature highly ordered structure and surface repetitiveness, making them good candidates for the development of vaccines and epitope presenting platforms . The upsurge of these applications has driven the cloning, expression and purification of virus structural components in a wide range of host systems (reviewed by Zeltins ). However, in most cases the self-assembly of viral capsid proteins (CPs) into VLPs still remains a challenge .
We previously attempted to explore the potential of Tobacco etch virus (TEV) particles as an adjuvant and our findings suggested that TEV induce both humoral and cellular response without the need of any other stimulus . However, the use of plant viral infectious particles poses additional safety and environmental challenges . By 1990s, research on Johnson grass mosaic virus (JGMV) CP led to propose the use of chimeric potyvirus-like particles for epitope carrying or display taking advantage of particle features, as reviewed by Jagadish and others . For the first time, Jagadish and others  successfully expressed in a recombinant system (E. coli) the JGMV CP that assembled into virus-like particle structures. Since then, the list of VLP assembly from E. coli-expressed potyviral CPs has been extended to Potato virus Y (PVY) , Plum pox virus , Pepper vein banding virus , Papaya ringspot virus  and TEV . Interestingly, none of these potyviral CPs were expressed as a fusion to a Histidine tag, perhaps based on the rationale that this tag would compromise CP self-assembly. In the current report we investigated whether TEV CP VLPs can be assembled from Histidine-tagged TEV CP, produced and purified at high level from E. coli cultures. We also evaluated the potential use of TEV CP VLPs as an adjuvant for a novel porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome virus (PRRSV) chimeric protein.
For obtaining VLPs from TEV CP soluble non-tagged version, lysates were treated with 4% (w/v) PEG 8000 for 1.5 h at 4 °C with constant shaking and left for 1 h at room temperature (22 ± 2 °C). Then, the sample was centrifuged at 4 °C, for 20 min, at 2,370 × g and the precipitate was solubilized overnight in 10 mM Tris-HCl buffer, 300 mM NaCl, 10 mM EDTA, pH 7.4. Samples were centrifuged at 4 °C, for 20 min, at 2,370 × g and VLP-enriched supernatants were passed through a 100 kDa MWCO Amicon Ultra-4 filtration centrifugal unit (Merck-Millipore, Germany). The estimated yield of this non-tagged version was 1.2 mg/l of culture, as assessed by densitometric analysis, due to presence of several proteins belonging to the expression host that also precipitated with PEG. On the other hand, the His-tagged version was purified by Ni2+ affinity chromatography. Analysis of purification fractions showed recovery of partially purified His-TEV-CP protein (Fig. 1b). Larger and shorter forms of TEV CP were observed in purified preparations of His-TEV-CP version, which might correspond to dimers and proteolysis byproducts, respectively (Fig. 1c). The yield of purified TEV CP was calculated at 10 mg/l of culture, as estimated using Bradford reagent against a BSA curve. Final preparations were stable for months when maintained at 4 °C in matrix buffer (see Fig. 1 legend) with 500 mM NaCl.
Most of the research in VLP production and assembly has been focused in plant viruses with isodiametric symmetry, like Cowpea mosaic virus and Cowpea chlorotic mottle virus, the rigid rods of Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) and the filamentous particles of Papaya mosaic virus (PapMV) . The production of TEV CP VLPs has been previously accomplished in a previous work , where particles ranging from 90 to 750 nm in length were observed, but level of expression was not reported. Furthermore, the assembly of His-tagged versions of TEV CP into VLPs was not addressed, in contrast to the results shown here. There are two factors that can explain these disparate results: the plasmids used for expressing His-tagged TEV CP versions and expression levels. The previous work describes the use of a plasmid (pTrcHis B from Thermo Fisher Scientific, USA) that adds at least 35 amino acids, including the His-tag, to the N-terminus of the recombinant protein, compromising VLP formation, while the plasmid used in the present work (pET28a + from Merck-Millipore, Germany) just adds 8 amino acids to TEV CP, leaving VLP assembly unaffected. Regarding the non-tagged versions, it is possible that the expression levels of TEV CP in the previous report reached the minimum amount required for spontaneous assembly, which was not the case in the present work. We hypothesized that His-tagged TEV CP, expressed at moderately higher levels than its non-tagged counterpart, must have been assembled right after the elution step of Ni2+ affinity chromatography. This could explain why a few VLPs were observed by TEM when analyzing His-tagged TEV CP samples before purification (Fig. 2a), however, additional experiments must be carried out in order to confirm this hypothesis. To our knowledge, there is no work thus far describing the expression of a His-tagged potyviral CP that assembles into VLPs. TMV studies have demonstrated a pivotal role of His-tag on controlling assembly of CP monomers to different virus-like structures, like rings, discs, rods, and filamentous structures [18, 19]. However, despite the potential of affinity tags, like hexahistidine, to facilitate process development of proteins, these may have undesired consequences on protein stability in solution and immunogenicity .
The novel PRRSVchim demonstrated to elicit potent IgG antibody response without the need of any adjuvant. This high immunogenicity is perhaps due to the ability of this chimeric protein to form oligomeric structures, as demonstrated by dynamic light scattering (Additional file 2: Figure S2), revealing the presence of a major peak with a mean diameter of 180 nm. However, the response is restricted to IgG1 subclass. As an unexpected result, this antibody response against PRRSVchim did not increase when the TEV CP VLPs were administered along with, even when different ratios of VLPs were used (Fig. 3). In contrast, TEV CP VLPs induced a change in the IgG2/IgG1 ratio, counteracting the IgG1-polarized antibody response to PRRSVchim protein alone (Fig. 3). In mice, it is well documented that IgG1 is related to Th2 immunity, while IgG2a reflects a Th1 bias. In addition, soluble proteins are generally restricted to the IgG1 isotype, while most antiviral response belongs to IgG2a . PapMV CP nanoparticles administered with trivalent flu vaccine showed an increase in the production of IgG1 and IgG2a against influenza virus . In addition, PRSV CP filamentous particles administered with green fluorescent protein (GFP) induce an increase in GFP-specific IgG1 and the strength of the response depends on the ratio of VLPs used . Based on PRRSVchim antibody response, it appears that TEV CP VLPs have a role in balancing both arms of the immune system, humoral and cellular response, against PRRSVchim. Some authors have mentioned that the success of a PRRSV vaccine relies on its ability to induce both neutralizing epitopes and cellular response . To our knowledge there is no report in the use of TEV CP-based particles, some of them longer than 1 μm, for aiding the immune response against a soluble antigen. Nevertheless, an interesting work by Kalnciema et al. demonstrates the usefulness of PVY microparticles as antigen carriers when translationally fused to foreign sequences of up to 71 amino acids long . Finally, it is becoming evident that the size of the adjuvant may have different effects on the type of the immune response induced; it appears that microparticles promote humoral response, whereas nanoparticles may favor the induction of cellular response . In summary, our results demonstrate that a hexahistidine-tagged TEV CP is successfully purified by Ni2+ affinity chromatography and self-assembles into long VLPs. Also, these particles contribute in balancing the immune response elicited by a novel chimeric protein comprising sequences from a swine virus, which in turn is a potent immunogen per se. The immune response of swine immunized with these TEV CP VLPs/PRRSVchim formulations needs to be investigated. These findings highlight the potential of TEV CP VLPs as particulate adjuvants with immune modulation properties without the need of antigen’s attachment.
The authors wish to acknowledge Sirenia González Pozos for technical support with the transmission electron microscopy at Laboratorio Avanzado de Nanoscopía Electrónica, Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Unidad Zacatenco. The scholarship to CAMC from CONACyT is gratefully acknowledged.
This work was supported by Fondo Sectorial de Innovación Secretaría de Economía-CONACYT (FINNOVA) project 238667.
Availability of data and materials
CAMC performed the experiments, analyzed the data and drafted the manuscript. AVC helped in preparing the samples for TEM. EPC and RHG designed and performed the immunization procedures. SEHR designed and performed ELISA test and helped to draft the manuscript. AGO conceived and designed the experiments, help in drafting the manuscript and supervised the work. All of the authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Mice experimentation protocol was approved by the Internal Committee for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals of Centro de Investigación y Asistencia en Tecnología y Diseño del Estado de Jalisco (reference number 2015-006).
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