Analysis of gene expression in gecko digital adhesive pads indicates significant production of cysteine- and glycine-rich beta-keratins



Microscopic bristles (setae) present on digital pads permit the adhesion and climbing of geckos. Keratins of setae of the lizard Gekko gecko (Tokay gecko) were analyzed by the isolation of expressed mRNAs and by the generation of an EST library. Of the 510 sequences determined, 268 (52.9%) were unique. Of these, 14 appeared to encode alpha- and 111 beta-keratins. Within the beta-keratins, we identified five groups based on nucleotide sequence comparisons. Of these, one contained the bulk of beta-keratins, with 103 EST members. The mRNAs within this major group, together with two singlets, encoded cysteine–proline–serine-rich proteins of 10–14 kDa (Ge-cprp). One of the smaller groups of transcripts encoded slightly larger glycine–proline–serine-rich proteins, of 14–19 kDa (Ge-gprp). The remaining group consisted of smaller (9 kDa) serine–tyrosine-rich beta-keratins (Ge-strp). Thus three classes could be distinguished by amino acid sequence alignment. Exact matches for some of the peptide sequences obtained from setal proteins by ms/ms sequencing occur within several of these clones. Most of the beta-keratins were basic and contained a core-box region of two beta-strand sequences, with high homology to core-boxes present in avian scale and feather beta-keratins. Core-boxes are beta-folded regions that are likely responsible for polymerization into the beta-keratin filaments. The two deduced alpha-keratins of 52.7 kDa are both acidic, and contain the typical central rod region with some homology to mammalian and avian alpha-keratins, with variable N- and C-terminal regions. Basic beta-keratins and acidic alpha-keratins may interact electrostatically to form the resistant corneous material of setae. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 312B:58–73, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.