Research Summary: A Novel Disulfide-Rich Protein Motif from Avian Eggshell Membranes
Under the shell of a chicken egg are two opposed proteinaceous disulfide-rich membranes. They are fabricated in the avian oviduct using fibers formed from proteins that are extensively coupled by irreversible lysine-derived crosslinks. The intractability of these eggshell membranes (ESM) has slowed their characterization and their protein composition remains uncertain. In this work, reductive alkylation of ESM followed by proteolytic digestion led to the identification of a cysteine rich ESM protein (abbreviated CREMP) that was similar to spore coat protein SP75 from cellular slime molds. Analysis of the cysteine repeats in partial sequences of CREMP reveals runs of remarkably repetitive patterns. Module a contains a C-X4–C-X5–C-X8–C-X6 pattern (where X represents intervening non-cysteine residues). These inter-cysteine amino acid residues are also strikingly conserved. The evolutionarily-related module b has the same cysteine spacing as a, but has 11 amino acid residues at its C-terminus. Different stretches of CREMP sequences in chicken genomic DNA fragments show diverse repeat patterns: e.g. all a modules; an alternation of a–b modules; or an a–b–b arrangement. Comparable CREMP proteins are found in contigs of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) and in the oviparous green anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis). In all these cases the long runs of highly conserved modular repeats have evidently led to difficulties in the assembly of full length DNA sequences. Hence the number, and the amino acid lengths, of CREMP proteins are currently unknown. A 118 amino acid fragment (representing an a–b–a–b pattern) from a chicken oviduct EST library expressed in Escherichia coli is a well folded, highly anisotropic, protein with a large chemical shift dispersion in 2D solution NMR spectra. Structure is completely lost on reduction of the 8 disulfide bonds of this protein fragment. Finally, solid state NMR spectra suggest a surprising degree of order in intact ESM fibers.