Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Viral and murine interleukin-10 are correctly processed and retain their biological activity when produced in tobacco

Luisa Bortesi18, Marzia Rossato2, Flora Schuster3, Nicole Raven4, Johannes Stadlmann5, Linda Avesani18, Alberto Falorni6, Flavia Bazzoni2, Ralph Bock7, Stefan Schillberg4 and Mario Pezzotti18*

Author Affiliations

1 Scientific and Technologic Department, University of Verona, Strada Le Grazie 15, 37134 Verona, Italy

2 Department of Pathology, Section of General Pathology, University of Verona, Strada Le Grazie 8, 37134 Verona, Italy

3 Institute for Molecular Biotechnology, Biology VII, RWTH, Worringerweg 1, 52074 Aachen, Germany

4 Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME), Forckenbeckstrasse 6, 52074 Aachen, Germany

5 Department for Chemistry, Glycobiology Division, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Muthgasse 18, 1190 Vienna, Austria

6 Department of Internal Medicine, University of Perugia, Via E. Dal Pozzo, 06126 Perugia, Italy

7 Max-Planck-Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Am Mühlenberg 1, 14476 Potsdam-Golm, Germany

8 Department for Sciences, Technologies and Markets of Grapevine and Wine, University of Verona, Via della Pieve 70, 37029 San Floriano di Valpolicella (VR), Italy

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BMC Biotechnology 2009, 9:22  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-9-22

Published: 19 March 2009



Interleukin-10 (IL-10) is a potent anti-inflammatory cytokine, with therapeutic applications in several autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Oral administration of this cytokine alone, or in combination with disease-associated autoantigens could confer protection form the onset of a specific autoimmune disease through the induction of oral tolerance. Transgenic plants are attractive systems for production of therapeutic proteins because of the ability to do large scale-up at low cost, and the low maintenance requirements. They are highly amenable to oral administration and could become effective delivery systems without extensive protein purification. We investigated the ability of tobacco plants to produce high levels of biologically-active viral and murine IL-10.


Three different subcellular targeting strategies were assessed in transient expression experiments, and stable transgenic tobacco plants were generated with the constructs that yielded the highest accumulation levels by targeting the recombinant proteins to the endoplasmic reticulum. The best yields using this strategy in T1 plants were 10.8 and 37.0 μg/g fresh leaf weight for viral and murine IL-10, respectively. The recombinant proteins were purified from transgenic leaf material and characterized in terms of their N-glycan composition, dimerization and biological activity in in vitro assays. Both molecules formed stable dimers, were able to activate the IL-10 signaling pathway and to induce specific anti-inflammatory responses in mouse J774 macrophage cells.


Tobacco plants are able to correctly process viral and murine IL-10 into biologically active dimers, therefore representing a suitable platform for the production for these cytokines. The accumulation levels obtained are high enough to allow delivery of an immunologically relevant dose of IL-10 in a reasonable amount of leaf material, without extensive purification. This study paves the way to performing feeding studies in mouse models of autoimmune diseases, that will allow the evaluation the immunomodulatory properties and effectiveness of the viral IL-10 in inducing oral tolerance compared to the murine protein.