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Keywords:

  •  autoimmune therapy;
  • diabetes;
  • edible crop;
  • oral tolerance;
  • plant-made pharmaceuticals

Summary

Lettuce and tobacco chloroplast transgenic lines expressing the cholera toxin B subunit–human proinsulin (CTB-Pins) fusion protein were generated. CTB-Pins accumulated up to ~16% of total soluble protein (TSP) in tobacco and up to ~2.5% of TSP in lettuce. Eight milligrams of powdered tobacco leaf material expressing CTB-Pins or, as negative controls, CTB–green fluorescent protein (CTB-GFP) or interferon–GFP (IFN-GFP), or untransformed leaf, were administered orally, each week for 7 weeks, to 5-week-old female non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice. The pancreas of CTB-Pins-treated mice showed decreased infiltration of cells characteristic of lymphocytes (insulitis); insulin-producing β-cells in the pancreatic islets of CTB-Pins-treated mice were significantly preserved, with lower blood or urine glucose levels, by contrast with the few β-cells remaining in the pancreatic islets of the negative controls. Increased expression of immunosuppressive cytokines, such as interleukin-4 and interleukin-10 (IL-4 and IL-10), was observed in the pancreas of CTB-Pins-treated NOD mice. Serum levels of immunoglobulin G1 (IgG1), but not IgG2a, were elevated in CTB-Pins-treated mice. Taken together, T-helper 2 (Th2) lymphocyte-mediated oral tolerance is a likely mechanism for the prevention of pancreatic insulitis and the preservation of insulin-producing β-cells. This is the first report of expression of a therapeutic protein in transgenic chloroplasts of an edible crop. Transplastomic lettuce plants expressing CTB-Pins grew normally and transgenes were maternally inherited in T1 progeny. This opens up the possibility for the low-cost production and delivery of human therapeutic proteins, and a strategy for the treatment of various other autoimmune diseases.