Isolation of a new class of cysteine–glycine–proline-rich beta-proteins (beta-keratins) and their expression in snake epidermis


Lorenzo Alibardi, Dipartimento di Biologia evoluzionistica sperimentale, University of Bologna, via Selmi 3, 40126 Bologne, Italy. T: + 39 051 2094257; F: + 39 051 251208; E:


Scales of snakes contain hard proteins (beta-keratins), now referred to as keratin-associated beta-proteins. In the present study we report the isolation, sequencing, and expression of a new group of these proteins from snake epidermis, designated cysteine–glycine–proline-rich proteins. One deduced protein from expressed mRNAs contains 128 amino acids (12.5 kDa) with a theoretical pI at 7.95, containing 10.2% cysteine and 15.6% glycine. The sequences of two more snake cysteine–proline-rich proteins have been identified from genomic DNA. In situ hybridization shows that the messengers for these proteins are present in the suprabasal and early differentiating beta-cells of the renewing scale epidermis. The present study shows that snake scales, as previously seen in scales of lizards, contain cysteine-rich beta-proteins in addition to glycine-rich beta-proteins. These keratin-associated beta-proteins mix with intermediate filament keratins (alpha-keratins) to produce the resistant corneous layer of snake scales. The specific proportion of these two subfamilies of proteins in different scales can determine various degrees of hardness in scales.