• mussel adhesive protein;
  • mfp-1;
  • mfp-2;
  • mfp-3;
  • secondary structure;
  • circular dichroism


Mussel foot proteins (mfps) mediate fouling by the byssal holdfast and have been extensively investigated as models for versatile polymer-mediated underwater adhesion and coatings. However, insights into the structural properties of mfps have lagged far behind the nanomechanical advances, owing in part to the inability of these proteins to crystallize as well as their limited solubility. Here, solution secondary structures of mfp-1, mfp-2, and mfp-3, localized in the mussel byssal cuticle, adhesive plaque, and plaque–substratum interface, respectively, were investigated using circular dichroism. All three have significant extended coil solution structure, but two, mfp-1 and mfp-2, appear to have punctuated regions of structure separated by unstructured domains. Apart from its punctuated distribution, the structure in mfp-1 resembles other structural proteins such as collagen and plant cell-wall proteins with prominent polyproline II helical structure. As in collagen, PP II structure of mfp-1 is incrementally disrupted by increasing the temperature and by raising pH. However, no recognizable change in mfp-1's PP II structure was evident with the addition with Ca2+ and Fe3+. In contrast, mfp-2 exhibits Ca2+- and disulfide-stabilized epidermal growth factor-like domains separated by unstructured sequence. Mfp-2 showed calcium-binding ability. Bound calcium in mfp-2 was not removed by chelation at pH 5.5, but it was released upon reduction of disulfide bonds. Mfp-3, in contrast, appears to consist largely of unstructured extended coils.