The mechanisms controlling the conversion of spider silk proteins into insoluble fibres, which happens in a fraction of a second and in a defined region of the silk glands, are still unresolved. The N-terminal domain changes conformation and forms a homodimer when pH is lowered from 7 to 6; however, the molecular details still remain to be determined. Here we investigate site-directed mutants of the N-terminal domain from Euprosthenops australis major ampullate spidroin 1 and find that the charged residues D40, R60 and K65 mediate intersubunit electrostatic interactions. Protonation of E79 and E119 is required for structural conversions of the subunits into a dimer conformation, and subsequent protonation of E84 around pH 5.7 leads to the formation of a fully stable dimer. These residues are highly conserved, indicating that the now proposed three-step mechanism prevents premature aggregation of spidroins and enables fast formation of spider silk fibres in general.
2014. Vol. 5, 3254- p.