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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Differential expression profiling of components associated with exoskeletal hardening in crustaceans

Anna V Kuballa123 and Abigail Elizur13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F), Animal Science, Bribie Island, Queensland 4507, Australia

2 School of Integrative Biology, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia

3 Faculty of Science, Health and Education, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, Queensland 4558, Australia

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:575  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-575

Published: 1 December 2008



Exoskeletal hardening in crustaceans can be attributed to mineralization and sclerotization of the organic matrix. Glycoproteins have been implicated in the calcification process of many matrices. Sclerotization, on the other hand, is catalysed by phenoloxidases, which also play a role in melanization and the immunological response in arthropods. Custom cDNA microarrays from Portunus pelagicus were used to identify genes possibly associated with the activation pathways involved in these processes.


Two genes potentially involved in the recognition of glycosylation, the C-type lectin receptor and the mannose-binding protein, were found to display molt cycle-related differential expression profiles. C-type lectin receptor up-regulation was found to coincide with periods associated with new uncalcified cuticle formation, while the up-regulation of mannose-binding protein occurred only in the post-molt stage, during which calcification takes place, implicating both in the regulation of calcification. Genes presumed to be involved in the phenoloxidase activation pathway that facilitates sclerotization also displayed molt cycle-related differential expression profiles. Members of the serine protease superfamily, trypsin-like and chymotrypsin-like, were up-regulated in the intermolt stage when compared to post-molt, while trypsin-like was also up-regulated in pre-molt compared to ecdysis. Additionally, up-regulation in pre- and intermolt stages was observed by transcripts encoding other phenoloxidase activators including the putative antibacterial protein carcinin-like, and clotting protein precursor-like. Furthermore, hemocyanin, itself with phenoloxidase activity, displayed an identical expression pattern to that of the phenoloxidase activators, i.e. up-regulation in pre- and intermolt.


Cuticle hardening in crustaceans is a complex process that is precisely timed to occur in the post-molt stage of the molt cycle. We have identified differential expression patterns of several genes that are believed to be involved in biomineralization and sclerotization and propose possible regulatory mechanisms for these processes based on their expression profiles, such as the potential involvement of C-type lectin receptors and mannose binding protein in the regulation of calcification.