A baculovirus expression vector, which contains the coding sequences for human prepro (β) nerve growth factor under control of the viral polyhedrin promoter, was constructed. Upon infection of insect cells with the recombinant virus, mature human β nerve growth factor (rhNGF) was released into the culture fluid. The mature rhNGF was biologically active since rat pheochromocytoma (PC12) and human neuroblastoma (SH-SY5Y) cells were induced to extend neurites upon treatment with this material. This activity was abolished by treating with antiserum prepared against mature mouse β NGF (mNGF). When compared with mNGF, rhNGF more rapidly elicited the differentiation response in both PC12 and SH-SY5Y cells. In an in vivo assay of cholinergic cell survival, rhNGF was nearly as potent as mNGF in protecting cholinergic neurons from degeneration following a fimbria-fornix lesion. These results show that the baculovirus expression system provides quantities of biologically potent human β NGF suitable for a comprehensive program of research to ascertain β NGF's potential as a therapeutic agent for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
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