Plant-produced human recombinant erythropoietic growth factors support erythroid differentiation in vitro
Clinically available red blood cells (RBCs) for transfusions are at high demand, but in vitro generation of RBCs from hematopoietic stem cells requires significant quantities of growth factors. Here, we describe the production of four human growth factors: erythropoietin (EPO), stem cell factor (SCF), interleukin 3 (IL-3), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), either as non-fused proteins or as fusions with a carrier molecule (lichenase), in plants, using a Tobacco mosaic virus vector-based transient expression system. All growth factors were purified and their identity was confirmed by western blotting and peptide mapping. The potency of these plant-produced cytokines was assessed using TF1 cell (responsive to EPO, IL-3 and SCF) or MCF-7 cell (responsive to IGF-1) proliferation assays. The biological activity estimated here for the cytokines produced in plants was slightly lower or within the range cited in commercial sources and published literature. By comparing EC50 values of plant-produced cytokines with standards, we have demonstrated that all four plant-produced growth factors stimulated the expansion of umbilical cord blood-derived CD34(+) cells and their differentiation toward erythropoietic precursors with the same potency as commercially available growth factors. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report on the generation of all key bioactive cytokines required for the erythroid development in a cost-effective manner using a plant-based expression system.