Bioproduction of a therapeutic vaccine against human papillomavirus in tomato hairy root cultures

Silvia Massa, Francesca Paolini, Carmela Marino, Rosella Franconi, Aldo Venuti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human papillomavirus (HPV) tumor disease is a critical public health problem worldwide, especially in the developing countries. The recognized pathogenic function of E5, E6, and E7 oncoproteins offers the opportunity to devise therapeutic vaccines based on engineered recombinant proteins. The potential of plants to manufacture engineered compounds for pharmaceutical purposes, from small to complex protein molecules, allows the expression of HPV antigens and, possibly, the regulation of immune functions to develop very specific therapies as a reinforcement to available nonspecific therapies and preventive vaccination also in developed countries. Among plant-based expression formats, hairy root cultures are a robust platform combining the benefits of eukaryotic plant-based bioreactors, with those typical of cell cultures. In this work, to devise an experimental therapeutic vaccine against HPV, hairy root cultures were used to express a harmless form of the HPV type 16 E7 protein (E7*) fused to SAPKQ, a noncytotoxic form of the saporin protein from Saponaria officinalis, that we had shown to improve E7-specific cell-mediated responses as a fusion E7*-SAPKQ DNA vaccine. Hairy root clones expressing the E7*-SAPKQ candidate vaccine were obtained upon infection of leaf explants of Solanum lycopersicum using a recombinant plant expression vector. Yield was approximately 35.5μg/g of fresh weight. Mouse immunization with vaccine-containing crude extracts was performed together with immunological and biological tests to investigate immune responses and anticancer activity, respectively. Animals were primed with either E7*-SAPKQ DNA-based vaccine or E7*-SAPKQ root extract-based vaccine and boosted with the same (homologous schedule) or with the other vaccine preparation (heterologous schedule) in the context of TC-1 experimental mouse model of HPV-associated tumor. All the formulations exhibited an immunological response associated to anticancer activity. In particular, DNA as prime and hairy root extract as boost demonstrated the highest efficacy. This work, based on the development of low-cost technologies, highlights the suitability of hairy root cultures as possible biofactories of therapeutic HPV vaccines and underlines the importance of the synergic combination of treatment modalities for future developments in this field.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - Mar 22 2019


  • Cancer
  • Hairy root cultures
  • Heterologous prime – boost
  • HPV – human papillomavirus
  • Plant molecular farming
  • Plant-produced antigens
  • Therapeutic vaccines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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