With increased interest in genetically modified (GM) crop plants there is an important need to understand the properties that contribute to the ability of such novel proteins to provoke immune and/or allergic responses. One characteristic that may be relevant is glycosylation, particularly as novel expression systems (e.g. bacterial to plant) will impact on the protein glycoprofile. The allergenicity (IgE inducing) and immunogenicity (IgG inducing) properties of wild type native human lactoferrin (NLF) from human milk (hm) and neutrophil granules (n) and a recombinant molecule produced in rice (RLF) have been assessed. These forms of lactoferrin have identical amino acid sequences, but different glycosylation patterns: hmNLF and nNLF have complex glycoprofiles including Lewis (Le)(x) structures, with particularly high levels of Le(x) expressed by nNLF, whereas RLF is simpler and rich in mannose residues. Antibody responses induced in BALB/c strain mice by intraperitoneal exposure to the different forms of lactoferrin were characterised. Immunisation with both forms of NLF stimulated substantial IgG and IgE antibody responses. In contrast, the recombinant molecule was considerably less immunogenic and failed to stimulate detectable IgE, irrespective of endotoxin and iron content. The glycans did not contribute to epitope formation, with equivalent IgE and IgG binding recorded for high titre anti-NLF antisera regardless of whether the immunising NLF or the recombinant molecule were used substrates in the analyses. These data demonstrate that differential glycosylation profiles can have a profound impact on protein allergenicity and immunogenicity, with mannose and Le(x) exhibiting opposing effects. These results have clear relevance for characterising the allergenic hazards of novel proteins in GM crops.
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