Vaccine 2018 03 1436(16) 2147-2154 pii 10.1016/j.vaccine.2018.02.106
Plant-made virus-like particle (VLP) vaccines that display wild-type influenza hemagglutinin (HA) are rapidly advancing through clinical trials. Produced by transient transfection of Nicotiana benthamiana, these novel vaccines are unusually immunogenic, eliciting both humoral and cellular responses. Here, we directly visualized VLPs bearing either HA trimers derived from strains A/California/7/2009 or A/Indonesia/5/05 using cryo-electron microscopy and determined the 3D organization of the VLPs using cryo-electron tomography. More than 99.9% of the HA trimers in the vaccine preparations were found on discoid and ovoid-shaped particles. The discoid-shaped VLPs presented HA trimers on their outer diameter. The ovoid-shaped VLPs contained HA trimers evenly distributed at their surface. The VLPs were stable for 12 months at 4 °C. Early interactions of the VLPs with mouse dendritic and human monocytoid (U-937) cells were visualized by electron microscopy after resin-embedding and sectioning. The VLP particles were observed bound to plasma membranes as well as inside vesicles. Mouse dendritic cells exposed to VLPs displayed classic morphological changes associated with activation including the extensive formation of dendrites. Our findings demonstrate that plant-made VLPs bearing influenza HA trimers are morphologically stable over time and raise the possibility that these VLPs may interact with and activate antigen-presenting cells in a manner similar to the intact virus.