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The availability of Bone Morphogenetic Proteins (hBMPs), the osteoinductive agents in bone, as an adjunct to surgical procedures involving bone reconstruction, might reduce or avoid the need for complex and demanding surgeries, preventing major costs, and morbidity related to autograft harvesting (Garrison et al., 2007; Lo et al., 2012). Among the 20 members of hBMPs, which belong to TGF beta superfamily, only hBMP-2, -4, -6, -7, -9, and -14 have shown promising osteoinductive properties in different injuries (e.g., long bone fracture non-unions, spinal fusion, and maxillofacial bone defects; Even et al., 2012; Lo et al., 2012; Carreira et al., 2014). hBMP2 and hBMP7 are the most characterized factors and are able to strongly induce osteoblast differentiation in different tissues (Marie et al., 2002). In 2007, an extensive survey on the cost-effectiveness of the use of recombinant hBMPs (rhBMPs) in orthopedy concluded that there is lack of evidence about the clinical effectiveness and that their use would not be cost-effective unless the price is significantly reduced, except for severe cases (Garrison et al., 2007). Over the past 10 years, evidence about the clinical efficacy of rhBMP2 has been provided by sponsored clinical studies (Burks and Nair, 2010; Kim et al., 2015). Based on preliminary clinical results in oral, maxillofacial and orthopedic surgeries, rhBMP2 is as effective as the conventional grafting according to clinical and histomorphometric parameters, and in some cases it may accelerate bone healing (Kelly et al., 2015; Lin et al., 2015; Poon et al., 2016). Moreover, rhBMP2 may decrease morbidity and improve other patient-associated outcomes, with no signs of rejection or infection (Alt et al., 2015; Lin et al., 2015; Poon et al., 2016). On the other hand, while complications and adverse events were rarely reported using rhBMPs for their specific clinical indications, pitfalls have been observed with off-label use of rhBMP2, leading to a number of adverse effects (Poon et al., 2016). Finally, some authors have still expressed concern regarding the actual effectiveness and safety of rhBMPs, highlighting the risk of potential serious complications, as reported by non-sponsored studies (Even et al., 2012).

A previous attempt to produce rhBMP2 in tobacco plants has been made (Suo et al., 2006). The level of accumulation of a recombinant protein in transgenic plants is protein specific and strongly influenced by the subcellular compartment of destination (Vitale and Pedrazzini, 2005); thus, search for the best subcellular compartment for the protein of interest represents a major issue in the effort to maximize production (Vitale and Pedrazzini, 2005; Hofbauer and Stoger, 2013). Several targeting strategies have been developed to improve protein accumulation in plant cells and one of the most promising is to exploit the seed storage protein determinants deputed to the formation of large oligomers that accumulate in the endoplasmic reticulum of maize endosperm, resulting in protein body (PB) biogenesis. The 27 kD γ-zein (hereafter zein) is a maize storage protein belonging to the prolamin class and is able to induce PB biogenesis even when expressed in vegetative tissues of transgenic plants (Shewry et al., 1995; Vitale and Ceriotti, 2004). Its N-terminal domain, characterized by eight repeats of the hexapeptide VHLPPP and seven cysteine residues is necessary for retention and deposition into the ER (Geli et al., 1994; Mainieri et al., 2014). The cysteine residues form inter-chain disulphide bonds, leading to assembly into the very large PBs. These polymers are therefore insoluble unless treated with reducing agents (Mainieri et al., 2004, 2014; Pompa and Vitale, 2006). This domain has been used to allow accumulation of recombinant fusion proteins both in transgenic plants and in mammalian cells (Mainieri et al., 2004; Llop-Tous et al., 2011).

This study aims to clas


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