A Plant Based Vaccine for Necrotic Enteritis in Chickens

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Necrotic enteritis (NE) is caused by type A strains of the bacterium Clostridium perfringens, leading to an estimated 2 billion dollar global economic loss in the poultry industry annually. Traditionally,

Necrotic enteritis (NE) is caused by type A strains of the bacterium Clostridium perfringens, leading to an estimated 2 billion dollar global economic loss in the poultry industry annually. Traditionally, NE has been effectively controlled by antibiotics added to the diet of poultry. Concerns about increasing antibiotic resistance of poultry and human based pathogens have led to the consideration of alternative approaches for controlling disease, such as vaccination. NE causing strains of C. perfringens produce two major toxins, α-toxin and NetB. Immune responses against either toxin can provide partial protection against NE. We have developed a fusion protein combining a non-toxic carboxy-terminal domain of the α-toxin (PlcC) and an attenuated, mutant form of NetB (NetB-W262A) for use as a vaccine antigen to immunize poultry against NE. We utilized a DNA sequence that was codon-optimized for Nicotiana benthamiana to enable high levels of expression. The 6-His tagged PlcC-NetB fusion protein was synthesized in N. benthamiana using a geminiviral replicon transient expression system. The fusion protein was purified by metal affinity chromatography and used to immunize broiler birds. Immunized birds produced a strong serum IgY response against both the plant produced PlcC-NetB protein and against bacterially produced His-PlcC and His-NetB. However, the PlcC-NetB fusion had antibody titers four times that of the bacterially produced toxoids alone. Immunized birds were significantly protected against a subsequent in-feed challenge with virulent C. perfringens when treated with the fusion protein. These results indicate that a plant-produced PlcC-NetB is a promising vaccine candidate for controlling NE in poultry.