Plant-made biologics: human butyrylcholinesterase mutants for the treatment of cocaine addiction-related diseases
Cocaine abuse affects millions of people with disastrous medical and societal consequences. Despite this, there is still no FDA-approved treatment to decrease the likelihood of relapse in rehabilitated addicts, and acute cocaine toxicity (overdose) is only symptomatically treated. Studies have demonstrated a promising potential treatment option with the help of the human serum enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), an enzyme capable of breaking down cocaine into biologically inactive side products. This activity of wild-type BChE, however, is relatively low. This prompted the design of variants of BChE which exhibit significantly improved catalytic activity against cocaine. Plants were used as a sustainable, scalable, affordable platform system to produce large amounts of human biologics such as these cocaine hydrolase variants of BChE. Using a tobacco relative, Nicotiana benthamiana, recombinant enzymes can be produced at quantities relevant to clinical use with desired kinetic properties. Next, the ability of the most promising plant-produced cocaine super hydrolase, pCocSH, to counter the lethal effects of cocaine overdose in vivo was tested. These studies revealed that this plant-produced enzyme can protect mice from an otherwise lethal dose of cocaine. Most excitingly, it was found that pCocSH can rescue mice from overdose when given immediately after the onset of cocaine-induced seizures. These studies provide in vitro and in vivo proof-of-principle for a promising plant-derived biologic to be used as a pharmacokinetic-based treatment for cocaine addiction-related diseases such as overdose.