Date: 14 Dec 2012

Progress in Cell Based Assays for Botulinum Neurotoxin Detection

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Abstract

Botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) are the most potent human toxins known and the causative agent of botulism, and are widely used as valuable pharmaceuticals. The BoNTs are modular proteins consisting of a heavy chain and a light chain linked by a disulfide bond. Intoxication of neuronal cells by BoNTs is a multi-step process including specific cell binding, endocytosis, conformational change in the endosome, translocation of the enzymatic light chain into the cells cytosol, and SNARE target cleavage. The quantitative and reliable potency determination of fully functional BoNTs produced as active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) requires an assay that considers all steps in the intoxication pathway. The in vivo mouse bioassay has for years been the ‘gold standard’ assay used for this purpose, but it requires the use of large numbers of mice and thus causes associated costs and ethical concerns. Cell-based assays are currently the only in vitro alternative that detect fully functional BoNTs in a single assay and have been utilized for years for research purposes. Within the last 5 years, several cell-based BoNT detection assays have been developed that are able to quantitatively determine BoNT potency with similar or greater sensitivity than the mouse bioassay. These assays now offer an alternative method for BoNT potency determination. Such quantitative and reliable BoNT potency determination is a crucial step in basic research, in the development of pharmaceutical BoNTs, and in the quantitative detection of neutralizing antibodies.