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Biomacromolecules. 2013 Jun 10;14(6):1751-60. doi: 10.1021/bm400125w. Epub 2013 May 22.

Nephila clavipes Flagelliform silk-like GGX motifs contribute to extensibility and spacer motifs contribute to strength in synthetic spider silk fibers.

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Department of Molecular Biology, University of Wyoming , Laramie, Wyoming 82071, United States.


Flagelliform spider silk is the most extensible silk fiber produced by orb weaver spiders, though not as strong as the dragline silk of the spider. The motifs found in the core of the Nephila clavipes flagelliform Flag protein are GGX, spacer, and GPGGX. Flag does not contain the polyalanine motif known to provide the strength of dragline silk. To investigate the source of flagelliform fiber strength, four recombinant proteins were produced containing variations of the three core motifs of the Nephila clavipes flagelliform Flag protein that produces this type of fiber. The as-spun fibers were processed in 80% aqueous isopropanol using a standardized process for all four fiber types, which produced improved mechanical properties. Mechanical testing of the recombinant proteins determined that the GGX motif contributes extensibility and the spacer motif contributes strength to the recombinant fibers. Recombinant protein fibers containing the spacer motif were stronger than the proteins constructed without the spacer that contained only the GGX motif or the combination of the GGX and GPGGX motifs. The mechanical and structural X-ray diffraction analysis of the recombinant fibers provide data that suggests a functional role of the spacer motif that produces tensile strength, though the spacer motif is not clearly defined structurally. These results indicate that the spacer is likely a primary contributor of strength, with the GGX motif supplying mobility to the protein network of native N. clavipes flagelliform silk fibers.

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