Silk gene expression of theridiid spiders: implications for male-specific silk use.Zoology (Jena) 2017; 122:107-114Z
Spiders (order Araneae) rely on their silks for essential tasks, such as dispersal, prey capture, and reproduction. Spider silks are largely composed of spidroins, members of a protein family that are synthesized in silk glands. As needed, silk stored in silk glands is extruded through spigots on the spinnerets. Nearly all studies of spider silks have been conducted on females; thus, little is known about male silk biology. To shed light on silk use by males, we compared silk gene expression profiles of mature males to those of females from three cob-web weaving species (Theridiidae). We de novo assembled species-specific male transcriptomes from Latrodectus hesperus, Latrodectus geometricus, and Steatoda grossa followed by differential gene expression analyses. Consistent with their complement of silk spigots, male theridiid spiders express appreciable amounts of aciniform, major ampullate, minor ampullate, and pyriform spidroin genes but not tubuliform spidroin genes. The relative expression levels of particular spidroin genes varied between sexes and species. Because mature males desert their prey-capture webs and become cursorial in their search for mates, we anticipated that major ampullate (dragline) spidroin genes would be the silk genes most highly expressed by males. Indeed, major ampullate spidroin genes had the highest expression in S. grossa males. However, minor ampullate spidroin genes were the most highly expressed spidroin genes in L. geometricus and L. hesperus males. Our expression profiling results suggest species-specific adaptive divergence of silk use by male theridiids.