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J Biol Chem. 2010 Dec 24;285(52):40745-53. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.163121. Epub 2010 Oct 19.

Spidroin N-terminal domain promotes a pH-dependent association of silk proteins during self-assembly.

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Department of Genetics and Biochemistry, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina 29634, USA.


Spider silks are spun from concentrated solutions of spidroin proteins. The appropriate timing of spidroin assembly into organized fibers must be highly regulated to avoid premature fiber formation. Chemical and physical signals presented to the silk proteins as they pass from the ampulle and through the tapered duct include changes in ionic environment and pH as well as the introduction of shear forces. Here, we show that the N-terminal domain of spidroins from the major ampullate gland (MaSp-NTDs) for both Nephila and Latrodectus spiders associate noncovalently as homodimers. The MaSp-NTDs are highly pH-responsive and undergo a structural transition in the physiological pH range of the spider duct. Tryptophan fluorescence of the MaSp-NTDs reveals a change in conformation when pH is decreased, and the pH at which the transition occurs is determined by the amount and type of salt present. Size exclusion chromatography and pulldown assays both indicate that the lower pH conformation is associated with a significantly increased MaSp-NTD homodimer stability. By transducing the duct pH signal into specific protein-protein interactions, this conserved spidroin domain likely contributes significantly to the silk-spinning process. Based on these results, we propose a model of spider silk assembly dynamics as mediated through the MaSp-NTD.

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