Egg case protein-1. A new class of silk proteins with fibroin-like properties from the spider Latrodectus hesperus.J Biol Chem 2005; 280(22):21220-30JB
Spiders produce multiple types of silk that exhibit diverse mechanical properties and biological functions. Most molecular studies of spider silk have focused on fibroins from dragline silk and capture silk, two important silk types involved in the survival of the spider. In our studies we have focused on the characterization of egg case silk, a third silk fiber produced by the black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperus. Analysis of the physical structure of egg case silk using scanning electron microscopy demonstrates the presence of small and large diameter fibers. By using the strong protein denaturant 8 M guanidine hydrochloride to solubilize the fibers, we demonstrated by SDS-PAGE and protein silver staining that an abundant component of egg case silk is a 100-kDa protein doublet. Combining matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization tandem time-of-flight mass spectrometry and reverse genetics, we have isolated a novel gene called ecp-1, which encodes for one of the protein components of the 100-kDa species. BLAST searches of the NCBInr protein data base using the primary sequence of ECP-1 revealed similarity to fibroins from spiders and silkworms, which mapped to two distinct regions within the ECP-1. These regions contained the conserved repetitive fibroin motifs poly(Ala) and poly(Gly-Ala), but surprisingly, no larger ensemble repeats could be identified within the primary sequence of ECP-1. Consistent with silk gland-restricted patterns of expression for fibroins, ECP-1 was demonstrated to be predominantly produced in the tubuliform gland, with lower levels detected in the major and minor ampullate glands. ECP-1 monomeric units were also shown to assemble into higher aggregate structures through the formation of disulfide bonds via a unique cysteine-rich N-terminal region. Collectively, our findings provide new insight into the components of egg case silk and identify a new class of silk proteins with distinctive molecular features relative to traditional members of the spider silk gene family.