Purpose: Milk proteins are an essential component of viviparous reproduction in the tsetse fly. Milk proteins are synthesized in and secreted from the milk gland tissue and constitute 50% of the secretions from which the intrauterine larva derives its nourishment. To understand milk protein function and regulation during viviparous reproduction, milk proteins need to be identified and characterized.
Methods: Two putative unknown secretory proteins (GmmMGP2 and GmmMGP3) were selected by bioinformatic analysis of tissue specific tsetse cDNA libraries. RT-PCR analysis was performed to verify their milk gland/fat body specific expression profile. Detailed characterization of developmental and tissue specific expression of these proteins was performed by northern blot analysis and fluorescent in situ hybridization. Functional analysis of the milk gland proteins during the tsetse gonotrophic cycle was performed using RNA interference (RNAi).
Results: The predicted proteins from gmmmgp2 and gmmmgp3 are small ∼22 kD and contain a high proportion of hydrophobic amino acids and potential phosphorylation sites. Expression of both genes is tissue specific to the secretory cells of the milk gland. Transcript abundance for both genes increases over the course of intrauterine larval development and parallels that of gmmmgp, a well characterized milk protein gene considered to be the major milk protein. Phenotypic analysis of flies after RNA interference treatment revealed a significant effect upon fecundity in the gmmmgp2 knockdown flies, but not the gmmmgp3 flies. Knockdown of gmmmgp2 resulted in disruption of ovulation and consequent oocyte accumulation and degradation. Gmmmgp2 knockdown also had a significant impact on fly mortality.
Conclusions: This work identifies two novel genes, the proteins of which appear to function in response to intrauterine larvigenesis in tsetse. These proteins may be nutritional components of the milk secretions provided to the larva from the mother. Phenotypic data from knockdown of gmmmgp2 suggests that this protein may also have a regulatory function given the defect in ovulation observed in knockdown flies. Further analysis of these genes will be important (in conjunction with other milk proteins) for identification of transcriptional regulation mechanisms that direct milk gland/pregnancy specific gene expression.