The silicatein propeptide acts as inhibitor/modulator of self-organization during spicule axial filament formation

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Silicateins are crucial enzymes that are involved in formation of the inorganic biosilica scaffold of the spicular skeleton of siliceous sponges. We show that silicatein acquires its structure-guiding and enzymatically active state by processing of silicatein from pro-silicatein to the mature enzyme. A recombinant propeptide (PROP) of silicatein from the siliceous demosponge Suberites domuncula was prepared, and antibodies were raised against the peptide. In sponge tissue, these antibodies reacted with both surface structures and the central region of the spicules. Using phage display expression, spicule-binding 12–mer peptides were identified that are rich in histidine residues. In the predicted tertiary structure of PROP, these histidine residues are only present in the α–helical region. The recombinant PROP was found to inhibit self-assembly of silicatein molecules. By light scattering, it was shown that, in the presence of 4 M urea, the recombinant silicatein is obtained in the mono/oligomeric form with a hydrodynamic radius of 4 nm, while lower urea concentrations promote self-aggregation and assembly of the protein. Finally, it is shown that the enzymatic activity of silicatein is abolished by PROP in silicatein samples that predominantly contain mono- or oligomeric silicatein particles, but the enzyme is not affected if present in the filamentous aggregated form. It is concluded that the functions of silicatein, acting as a structural template for its biosilica product and as an enzyme, are modulated and controlled by its propeptide.

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