Plant-Produced Mouse-Specific Zona Pellucida 3 Peptide Induces Immune Responses in Mice
Contraceptive vaccines are designed to stimulate autoimmune responses to molecules involved in the reproductive process. A mouse-specific peptide from zona pellucida 3 (mZP3) has been proposed as a target epitope. Here, we employed a plant expression system for the production of glycosylated mZP3 and evaluated the immunogenicity of plant-produced mZP3-based antigens in a female BALB/c mouse model. In the mZP3-1 antigen, mZP3 fused with a T-cell epitope of tetanus toxoid, a histidine tag, and a SEKDEL sequence. A fusion antigen (GFP-mZP3-1) and a polypeptide antigen containing three repeats of mZP3 (mZP3-3) were also examined. Glycosylation of mZP3 should be achieved by targeting proteins to the endoplasmic reticulum. Agrobacterium -mediated transient expression of antigens resulted in successful production of mZP3 in Nicotiana benthamiana . Compared with mZP3-1, GFP-mZP3-1 and mZP3-3 increased the production of the mZP3 peptide by more than 20 and 25 times, respectively. The glycosylation of the proteins was indicated by their size and their binding to a carbohydrate-binding protein. Both plant-produced GFP-mZP3-1 and mZP3-3 antigens were immunogenic in mice; however, mZP3-3 generated significantly higher levels of serum antibodies against mZP3. Induced antibodies recognized native zona pellucida of wild mouse, and specific binding of antibodies to the oocytes was observed in immunohistochemical studies. Therefore, these preliminary results indicated that the plants can be an efficient system for the production of immunogenic mZP3 peptide, which may affect the fertility of wild mice.