In order to investigate the role of different parts of the fibroin heavy chain (H-chain) in the secretion of fibroin in the silk gland of the silkworm (Bombyx mori) in vivo, two enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP)/H-chain fusion genes with deduced protein sequences containing an identical N-terminal region and different C-terminal regions of the H-chain were introduced into the B. mori genome using a piggyBac-mediated germline transformation. EGFP fluorescence and molecular analysis showed the products of two different EGFP/H-chain fusion proteins were secreted into the posterior silk gland lumen and aggregated in the middle silk gland and spun into cocoons. The results revealed that only the non-repetitive N terminus of the H-chain is essential for secretion of the H-chain into the posterior silk gland lumen. In addition, our results also indicated that the most likely post-translational modification of the H-chain is at the C-terminal domain. Here, our results not only provide a theoretical basis for the genetic modification of silk fiber as a functional biomaterial but also are of great significance to establishing a new silk gland bioreactor to mass-produce exogenous proteins in an active form.
The mechanism underlying the secretion of Bombyx mori silk fibroin in vivo is not yet fully understood. We confirmed only the non-repetitive N-terminus of the fibroin heavy chain (H-chain) is essential for the secretion of the H-chain. Transgenic silkworms could direct secretion of the H-chain fusion protein into the posterior silk gland (PSG) lumen without forming an H-L heterodimer.