U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Published in Biochimie 82 (2000) 955−966.


Botulism is a potentially lethal disease caused by one of seven homologous neurotoxic proteins usually produced by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. This neuromuscular disorder occurs through an exquisite series of molecular events, ultimately ending with the arrest of acetylcholine release and hence, flaccid paralysis. The development of vaccines that protect against botulism dates back to the 1940s. Currently, a pentavalent vaccine that protects against BoNT serotypes A-E and a separate monovalent vaccine that protects against BoNT serotype F are available as Investigational New Drugs. However, due to the numerous shortcomings associated with the toxoid vaccines, several groups have efforts towards developing next-generation vaccines. Identifying a synthetic peptide that harbors a neutralizing epitope is one approach to a BoNT vaccine, while another employs the use of a Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus replicon vector to produce protective antigens in vivo against BoNT. The strategy used in our laboratory is to design synthetic genes encoding non-toxic, carboxy-terminal fragments of the C. botulinum neurotoxins (rBoNT(HC)). The gene products are expressed in the yeast, Pichia pastoris, and purified to greater than 98% with yields typically ranging from 200-500 mg per kg of wet cells. Protective immunity to the purified products against high-level challenges of neurotoxin is elicited in mice and in non-human primates. A pre-Investigational New Drug meeting was held with the Food and Drug Administration, and the next milestone for the vaccine candidates will be clinical trials.