Secreted Trimeric Chikungunya Virus Spikes from Insect Cells : Production, Purification, and Glycosylation Status

Hick, Tessy A.H.; Geertsema, Corinne; Henquet, Maurice G.L.; Martens, Dirk E.; Metz, Stefan W.; Pijlman, Gorben P.


Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a rapidly emerging mosquito-borne virus that causes a severe febrile illness with long-lasting arthralgia in humans. As there is no vaccine to protect humans and limit CHIKV epidemics, the virus continues to be a global public health concern. The CHIKV envelope glycoproteins E1 and E2 are important immunogens; therefore, the aim of this study is to produce trimeric CHIKV spikes in insect cells using the baculovirus expression system. The CHIKV E1 and E2 ectodomains were covalently coupled by a flexible linker that replaces the 6K transmembrane protein. The C-terminal E1 transmembrane was replaced by a Strep-tag II for the purification of secreted spikes from the culture fluid. After production in Sf9 suspension cells (product yields of 5.8–7.6 mg/L), the CHIKV spikes were purified by Strep-Tactin affinity chromatography, which successfully cleared the co-produced baculoviruses. Bis(sulfosuccinimidyl)suberate cross-linking demonstrated that the spikes are secreted as trimers. PNGase F treatment showed that the spikes are glycosylated. LC–MS/MS-based glycoproteomic analysis confirmed the glycosylation and revealed that the majority are of the mannose-or hybrid-type N-glycans and <2% have complex-type N-glycans. The LC –MS/MS analysis also revealed three O-glycosylation sites in E1. In conclusion, the trimeric, glycosylated CHIKV spikes have been successfully produced in insect cells and are now available for vaccination studies.