The process conditions for recombinant hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) extraction from transgenic potato were examined. The effects of temperature, the reducing agent β-mercaptoethanol (BME), and proteinase inhibitors on the level of antigenic activity of recovered HBsAg were determined. Sedimentation profiles were performed to characterize HBsAg assembly into virus-like particles. Increasing the temperature of the sample for about 1 min increased the measured HBsAg antigenic activity. The optimum temperature was around 50 °C. A 3-fold enhancement of the antigenic activity was obtained in extract from transgenic potato expressing HBsAg, when monoclonal antibodies were used to assay for HBsAg. When antigenic activity was determined by polyclonal antibodies, no enhancement in the antigenic activity was obtained. Temperature may affect the conformation of the a epitope to which the monoclonal antibodies bind or alter the fluidity of surface lipid regions. BME increased the antigenic activity of HBsAg up to 4-fold when monoclonal antibodies directed against the a determinant were used, but there was no increase with polyclonal antibodies. This observation suggests that BME affects the structure or presentation of the a epitope. In the presence of BME and leupeptin, a proteinase inhibitor, higher antigenic activity was obtained. Leupeptin might protect the antigen, which might become more susceptible to proteolytic degradation after reduction, as a result of stimulation of sulfhydryl proteases. Although both temperature and BME increased the antigenic activity of HBsAg individually, when combined their interaction was antagonistic, resulting in reduced antigenic activity. Different proteinase inhibitors, including leupeptin, aprotinin, E-64, pefabloc, and pepstatin, had no significant effect on HBsAg from potato extract in a 2 h period in the absence of BME. The sedimentation profile of potato-produced HBsAg was determined in 5-30% sucrose gradients. Yeast-derived recombinant HBsAg was used as a positive control. The HBsAg from transgenic potato showed sedimentation and density properties that are very similar to the yeast-produced antigen, indicating assembly into virus-like particles. BME treatment did not change the sedimentation profile.
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