Amyloid fibril formation propensity is inherent into the hexapeptide tandemly repeating sequence of the central domain of silkmoth chorion proteins of the A-family.
Chorion, the major component of silkmoth eggshell, consists of the A and B classes of low-molecular weight structural proteins. Chorion protects the oocyte and the developing embryo from environmental hazards and this is due to the extraordinary physical and chemical properties of its constituent proteins. We have shown previously [FEBS Lett. 479 (2000) 141; 499 (2001) 268] that peptide-analogues of the A and B classes of chorion proteins form amyloid fibrils under a variety of conditions, which led us to propose that silkmoth chorion is a natural, protective amyloid. In this work, we present data showing conclusively that, the first main step of amyloid-like fibrillogenesis of chorion peptides is the formation of nuclei of liquid crystalline nature, which is reminiscent of spider-silk formation. We show that these liquid-crystalline nuclei (spherulites) 'collapse'/deteriorate to form amyloid fibrils in a spectacular manner, important, it seems, for chorion morphogenesis and amyloid fibrillogenesis in general. The molecular 'switch' causing this spectacular transformation is, most probably, a conformational transition to the structure of chorion peptides, from a left-handed parallel beta-helix to an antiparallel beta-pleated sheet. Apparently, these peptides were suitably designed to play this role, after millions of years of molecular evolution.