β‑Sheet Nanocrystalline Domains Formed from Phosphorylated Serine-Rich Motifs in Caddisfly Larval Silk: A Solid State NMR and XRD Study

Adhesive silks spun by aquatic caddisfly (order Trichoptera) larvae are used to build both intricate protective shelters and food harvesting nets underwater. In this study, we use 13C and 31P solid-state NMR and wide angle X-ray diffraction (WAXD) as tools to elucidate molecular protein structure of caddisfly larval silk from the species Hesperophylax consimilis. Caddisfly larval silk is a fibroin protein based biopolymer containing mostly repetitive amino acid motifs. NMR and X-ray results provide strong supporting evidence for a structural model in which phosphorylated serine repeats (pSX)4 complex with divalent cations Ca2+ and Mg2+ to form rigid nanocrystalline β-sheet structures in caddisfly silk. 13C NMR data suggests that both phosphorylated serine and neighboring valine residues exist in a β-sheet conformation while glycine and leucine residues common in GGX repeats likely reside in random coil conformations. Additionally, 31P chemical shift anisotropy (CSA) analysis indicates that the phosphates on phosphoserine residues are doubly ionized, and are charge-stabilized by divalent cations. Positively charged arginine side chains also likely play a role in charge stabilization. Finally, WAXD results finds that the silk is at least 7–8% crystalline, with β-sheet interplane spacings of 3.7 and 4.5 Å.