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Open Access Research article

Rotavirus A-specific single-domain antibodies produced in baculovirus-infected insect larvae are protective in vivo

Silvia Gómez-Sebastián1, Maria C Nuñez1, Lorena Garaicoechea2, Carmen Alvarado1, Marina Mozgovoj2, Rodrigo Lasa1, Alan Kahl2, Andres Wigdorovitz2, Viviana Parreño2* and José M Escribano3*

Author affiliations

1 Alternative Gene Expression S.L. (ALGENEX), Centro empresarial, Parque Científico y Tecnológico de la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Campus de Montegancedo, 28223, Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid, Spain

2 Instituto de Virología, CICV y A–INTA, Buenos Aires, Argentina

3 Departamento de Biotecnología, Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (INIA), Autovía A6, Km 7.5, 28040, Madrid, Spain

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Citation and License

BMC Biotechnology 2012, 12:59  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-12-59

Published: 7 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Single-domain antibodies (sdAbs), also known as nanobodies or VHHs, are characterized by high stability and solubility, thus maintaining the affinity and therapeutic value provided by conventional antibodies. Given these properties, VHHs offer a novel alternative to classical antibody approaches. To date, VHHs have been produced mainly in E. coli, yeast, plants and mammalian cells. To apply the single-domain antibodies as a preventive or therapeutic strategy to control rotavirus infections in developing countries (444,000 deaths in children under 5 years of age) has to be minimized their production costs.

Results

Here we describe the highly efficient expression of functional VHHs by the Improved Baculovirus Expression System (IBES® technology), which uses a baculovirus expression vector in combination with Trichoplusia ni larvae as living biofactories. Two VHHs, named 3B2 and 2KD1, specific for the inner capsid protein VP6 of Group A rotavirus, were expressed in insect larvae. The IBES® technology achieved very high expression of 3B2 and 2KD1, reaching 2.62% and 3.63% of the total soluble protein obtained from larvae, respectively. These expression levels represent up to 257 mg/L of protein extract after insect processing (1 L extract represents about 125 g of insect biomass or about 375 insect larvae). Larva-derived antibodies were fully functional when tested in vitro and in vivo, neutralizing Group A rotaviruses and protecting offspring mice against rotavirus-induced diarrhea.

Conclusions

Our results open up the possibility of using insects as living biofactories (IBES® technology) for the cost-efficient production of these and other fully functional VHHs to be used for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes, thereby eliminating concerns regarding the use of bacterial or mammalian cells. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that insects have been used as living biofactories to produce a VHH molecule.

Keywords:
Single-domain antibodies; Therapeutic molecule; Neutralization; Rotavirus A; Insect; Baculovirus; IBES®technology