Dragline silk: A fiber assembled with low-molecular-weight cysteine-rich proteins

Thanh Pham, Tyler Chuang, Albert Lin, Hyun Joo, Jerry Tsai, Taylor Crawford, Liang Zhao, Caroline Williams, Yang Hsia, Craig Vierra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dragline silk has been proposed to contain two main protein constituents, MaSp1 and MaSp2. However, the mechanical properties of synthetic spider silks spun from recombinant MaSp1 and MaSp2 proteins have yet to approach natural fibers, implying the natural spinning dope is missing critical factors. Here we report the discovery of novel molecular constituents within the spinning dope that are extruded into dragline silk. Protein studies of the liquid spinning dope from the major ampullate gland, coupled with the analysis of dragline silk fibers using mass spectrometry, demonstrate the presence of a new family of low-molecular-weight cysteine-rich proteins (CRPs) that colocalize with the MA fibroins. Expression of the CRP family members is linked to dragline silk production, specifically MaSp1 and MaSp2 mRNA synthesis. Biochemical data support that CRP molecules are secreted into the spinning dope and assembled into macromolecular complexes via disulfide bond linkages. Sequence analysis supports that CRP molecules share similarities to members that belong to the cystine slipknot superfamily, suggesting that these factors may have evolved to increase fiber toughness by serving as molecular hubs that dissipate large amounts of energy under stress. Collectively, our findings provide molecular details about the components of dragline silk, providing new insight that will advance materials development of synthetic spider silk for industrial applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4073-4081
Number of pages9
Issue number11
StatePublished - Sep 26 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Materials Chemistry

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