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Rage, Emile; Touzani, Charifa Drissi; Marusic, Carla; Lico, Chiara; Goebel, Thomas; Bortolami, Alessio; Bonfante, Francesco; Salzano, Anna Maria; Scaloni, Andrea; Fellahi, Siham; El Houadfi, Mohammed; Donini, Marcello and Baschieri, Selene (2019): Functional characterization of a plant-produced infectious bursal disease virus antigen fused to the constant region of avian IgY immunoglobulins. In: Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, Vol. 103, No. 18: pp. 7491-7504

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Infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV) is the cause of an economically important highly contagious disease of poultry, and vaccines are regarded as the most beneficial interventions for its prevention. In this study, plants were used to produce a recombinant chimeric IBDV antigen for the formulation of an innovative subunit vaccine. The fusion protein (PD-FcY) was designed to combine the immunodominant projection domain (PD) of the viral structural protein VP2 with the constant region of avian IgY (FcY), which was selected to enhance antigen uptake by avian immune cells. The gene construct encoding the fusion protein was transiently expressed in Nicotiana benthamiana plants and an extraction/purification protocol was set up, allowing to reduce the contamination by undesired plant compounds/proteins. Mass spectrometry analysis of the purified protein revealed that the glycosylation pattern of the FcY portion was similar to that observed in native IgY, while in vitro assays demonstrated the ability of PD-FcY to bind to the avian immunoglobulin receptor CHIR-AB1. Preliminary immunization studies proved that PD-FcY was able to induce the production of protective anti-IBDV-VP2 antibodies in chickens. In conclusion, the proposed fusion strategy holds promises for the development of innovative low-cost subunit vaccines for the prevention of avian viral diseases.

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