The insect cuticle is a composite biomaterial made up primarily of chitin and proteins. The physical properties of the cuticle can vary greatly from hard and rigid to soft and flexible. Understanding how different cuticle types are assembled can aid in the development of novel biomimetic materials for use in medicine and technology. Toward this goal, we have taken a combined proteomics and transcriptomics approach with the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, to examine the protein and gene expression profiles of the elytra and hindwings, appendages that contain rigid and soft cuticles, respectively. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis analysis revealed distinct differences in the protein profiles between elytra and hindwings, with four highly abundant proteins dominating the elytral cuticle extract. MALDI/TOF mass spectrometry identified 19 proteins homologous to known or hypothesized cuticular proteins (CPs), including a novel low complexity protein enriched in charged residues. Microarray analysis identified 372 genes with a 10-fold or greater difference in transcript levels between elytra and hindwings. CP genes with higher expression in the elytra belonged to the Rebers and Riddiford family (CPR) type 2, or cuticular proteins of low complexity (CPLC) enriched in glycine or proline. In contrast, a majority of the CP genes with higher expression in hindwings were classified as CPR type 1, cuticular proteins analogous to peritrophins (CPAP), or members of the Tweedle family. This research shows that the elyra and hindwings, representatives of rigid and soft cuticles, have different protein and gene expression profiles for structural proteins that may influence the mechanical properties of these cuticles.
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