Plant-produced Zika virus envelope protein elicits neutralizing immune responses that correlate with protective immunity against Zika virus in mice

Ming Yang, Haiyan Sun, Huafang Lai, Jonathan Hurtado, Qiang Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


The global Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak and its link to foetal and newborn microcephaly and severe neurological complications in adults call for the urgent development of ZIKV vaccines. In response, we developed a subunit vaccine based on the ZIKV envelope (E) protein and investigated its immunogenicity in mice. Transient expression of ZIKV E (zE) resulted in its rapid accumulation in leaves of Nicotiana benthamiana plants. Biochemical analysis revealed that plant-produced ZIKV E (PzE) exhibited specific binding to a panel of monoclonal antibodies that recognize various zE conformational epitopes. Furthermore, PzE can be purified to >90% homogeneity with a one-step Ni2+ affinity chromatography process. PzE are found to be highly immunogenic, as two doses of PzE elicited both potent zE-specific antibody and cellular immune responses in mice. The delivery of PzE with alum induced a mixed Th1/Th2 immune response, as the antigen-specific IgG isotypes were a mixture of high levels of IgG1/IgG2c and splenocyte cultures from immunized mice secreted significant levels of IFN-gamma, IL-4 and IL-6. Most importantly, the titres of zE-specific and neutralizing antibodies exceeded the threshold that correlates with protective immunity against multiple strains of ZIKV. Thus, our results demonstrated the feasibility of plant-produced ZIKV protein antigen as effective, safe and affordable vaccines against ZIKV.



  • antibody response
  • cytokine
  • envelope protein
  • neutralizing immunity
  • Nicotiana benthamiana
  • Plant-made pharmaceutical
  • Plant-made vaccine
  • vaccine
  • Zika virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science

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