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Insect Biochem Mol Biol. 2008 Apr;38(4):478-89. doi: 10.1016/j.ibmb.2007.08.002. Epub 2007 Aug 17.

Characterization and expression of the beta-N-acetylhexosaminidase gene family of Tribolium castaneum.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA.


Enzymes belonging to the beta-N-acetylhexosaminidase family cleave chitin oligosaccharides produced by the action of chitinases on chitin into the constituent N-acetylglucosamine monomer. Four genes encoding putative chitooligosaccharidolytic beta-N-acetylhexosaminidases (hereafter referred to as N-acetylglucosaminidases (NAGs)) in the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, namely TcNAG1, TcFDL, TcNAG2, and TcNAG3, and three other related hexosaminidases were identified by searching the recently completed genome [Tribolium Genome Sequencing Consortium, 2007. The first genome sequence of a beetle, Tribolium castaneum, a model for insect development and pest biology. Nature, submitted for publication]. Full-length cDNAs for all four NAGs were cloned and sequenced, and the exon-intron organization of the corresponding genes was determined. Analyses of their developmental expression patterns indicated that, although all four of the NAGs are transcribed during most developmental stages, each gene had a distinct spatial and temporal expression pattern. TcNAG1 transcripts are the most abundant, particularly at the late pupal stage, while TcNAG3 transcripts are the least abundant, even at their peak levels in the late larval stages. The function of each NAG during different developmental stages was assessed by observations of lethal phenotypes after gene-specific double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)-mediated transcript depletion as verified by real-time PCR. TcNAG1 dsRNA was most effective in interrupting all three types of molts: larval-larval, larval-pupal, and pupal-adult. Treated insects died after failing to completely shed their old cuticles. Knockdown of transcripts for the other three NAG genes resulted in phenotypes similar to those of TcNAG1 dsRNA-treated insects, but the effects were somewhat variable and less severe. Sequence comparisons with other enzymatically characterized insect homologs suggested that TcFDL, unlike the other NAGs, may have a role in N-glycan processing in addition to its apparent role in cuticular chitin turnover. These results support the hypothesis that TcNAGs participate in chitin turnover and/or N-glycan processing during insect development and that each NAG fulfills an essential and distinct function.

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