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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Gene expression profiling of cuticular proteins across the moult cycle of the crab Portunus pelagicus

Anna V Kuballa123, David J Merritt2 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 Biology 2007, 5:45  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-5-45

Published: 10 October 2007



Crustaceans represent an attractive model to study biomineralization and cuticle matrix formation, as these events are precisely timed to occur at certain stages of the moult cycle. Moulting, the process by which crustaceans shed their exoskeleton, involves the partial breakdown of the old exoskeleton and the synthesis of a new cuticle. This cuticle is subdivided into layers, some of which become calcified while others remain uncalcified. The cuticle matrix consists of many different proteins that confer the physical properties, such as pliability, of the exoskeleton.


We have used a custom cDNA microarray chip, developed for the blue swimmer crab Portunus pelagicus, to generate expression profiles of genes involved in exoskeletal formation across the moult cycle. A total of 21 distinct moult-cycle related differentially expressed transcripts representing crustacean cuticular proteins were isolated. Of these, 13 contained copies of the cuticle_1 domain previously isolated from calcified regions of the crustacean exoskeleton, four transcripts contained a chitin_bind_4 domain (RR consensus sequence) associated with both the calcified and un-calcified cuticle of crustaceans, and four transcripts contained an unannotated domain (PfamB_109992) previously isolated from C. pagurus. Additionally, cryptocyanin, a hemolymph protein involved in cuticle synthesis and structural integrity, also displays differential expression related to the moult cycle. Moult stage-specific expression analysis of these transcripts revealed that differential gene expression occurs both among transcripts containing the same domain and among transcripts containing different domains.


The large variety of genes associated with cuticle formation, and their differential expression across the crustacean moult cycle, point to the complexity of the processes associated with cuticle formation and hardening. This study provides a molecular entry path into the investigation of the gene networks associated with cuticle formation.