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Open Access Research article

Complex gene expression in the dragline silk producing glands of the Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus)

Amanda Kelly Lane1, Cheryl Y Hayashi2, Gregg B Whitworth1 and Nadia A Ayoub1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Washington and Lee University, 204 W. Washington St., Lexington, VA 24450, USA

2 Biology Department, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521, USA

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:846  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-846

Published: 2 December 2013

Abstract

Background

Orb-web and cob-web weaving spiders spin dragline silk fibers that are among the strongest materials known. Draglines are primarily composed of MaSp1 and MaSp2, two spidroins (spider fibrous proteins) expressed in the major ampullate (MA) silk glands. Prior genetic studies of dragline silk have focused mostly on determining the sequence of these spidroins, leaving other genetic aspects of silk synthesis largely uncharacterized.

Results

Here, we used deep sequencing to profile gene expression patterns in the Western black widow, Latrodectus hesperus. We sequenced millions of 3′-anchored “tags” of cDNAs derived either from MA glands or control tissue (cephalothorax) mRNAs, then associated the tags with genes by compiling a reference database from our newly constructed normalized L. hesperus cDNA library and published L. hesperus sequences. We were able to determine transcript abundance and alternative polyadenylation of each of three loci encoding MaSp1. The ratio of MaSp1:MaSp2 transcripts varied between individuals, but on average was similar to the estimated ratio of MaSp1:MaSp2 in dragline fibers. We also identified transcription of TuSp1 in MA glands, another spidroin family member that encodes the primary component of egg-sac silk, synthesized in tubuliform glands. In addition to the spidroin paralogs, we identified 30 genes that are more abundantly represented in MA glands than cephalothoraxes and represent new candidates for involvement in spider silk synthesis.

Conclusions

Modulating expression rates of MaSp1 variants as well as MaSp2 and TuSp1 could lead to differences in mechanical properties of dragline fibers. Many of the newly identified candidate genes likely encode secreted proteins, suggesting they could be incorporated into dragline fibers or assist in protein processing and fiber assembly. Our results demonstrate previously unrecognized transcript complexity in spider silk glands.

Keywords:
Spidroin; Major ampullate glands; Alternative polyadenylation; MaSp1; Spider; Tag profiling