Field production and functional evaluation of chloroplast-derived interferon-alpha2b

Plant Biotechnol J. 2007 Jul;5(4):511-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2007.00258.x. Epub 2007 May 9.


Type I interferons (IFNs) inhibit viral replication and cell growth and enhance the immune response, and therefore have many clinical applications. IFN-alpha2b ranks third in world market use for a biopharmaceutical, behind only insulin and erythropoietin. The average annual cost of IFN-alpha2b for the treatment of hepatitis C infection is $26,000, and is therefore unavailable to the majority of patients in developing countries. Therefore, we expressed IFN-alpha2b in tobacco chloroplasts, and transgenic lines were grown in the field after obtaining United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) approval. Stable, site-specific integration of transgenes into chloroplast genomes and homoplasmy through several generations were confirmed. IFN-alpha2b levels reached up to 20% of total soluble protein, or 3 mg per gram of leaf (fresh weight). Transgenic IFN-alpha2b had similar in vitro biological activity to commercially produced PEG-Introntrade mark when tested for its ability to protect cells against cytopathic viral replication in the vesicular stomatitis virus cytopathic effect (VSV CPE) assay and to inhibit early-stage human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. The antitumour and immunomodulating properties of IFN-alpha2b were also seen in vivo. Chloroplast-derived IFN-alpha2b increased the expression of major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC I) on splenocytes and the total number of natural killer (NK) cells. Finally, IFN-alpha2b purified from chloroplast transgenic lines (cpIFN-alpha2b) protected mice from a highly metastatic tumour line. This demonstration of high levels of expression of IFN-alpha2b, transgene containment and biological activity akin to that of commercial preparations of IFN-alpha2b facilitated the first field production of a plant-derived human blood protein, a critical step towards human clinical trials and commercialization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Chloroplasts / metabolism*
  • Interferon alpha-2
  • Interferon-alpha / biosynthesis*
  • Interferon-alpha / pharmacology
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / metabolism
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Tobacco / metabolism


  • Interferon alpha-2
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Recombinant Proteins