The Journal of experimental biology

A crayfish molar tooth protein with putative mineralized exoskeletal chitinous matrix properties.

PMID 26385331


Some crustaceans possess exoskeletons that are reinforced with calcium carbonate. In the crayfish Cherax quadricarinatus, the molar tooth, which is part of the mandibular exoskeleton, contains an unusual crystalline enamel-like apatite layer. As this layer resembles vertebrate enamel in composition and function, it offers an interesting example of convergent evolution. Unlike other parts of the crayfish exoskeleton, which is periodically shed and regenerated during the molt cycle, molar mineral deposition takes place during the pre-molt stage. The molar mineral composition transforms continuously from fluorapatite through amorphous calcium phosphate to amorphous calcium carbonate and is mounted on chitin. The process of crayfish molar formation is entirely extracellular and presumably controlled by proteins, lipids, polysaccharides, low-molecular weight molecules and calcium salts. We have identified a novel molar protein termed Cq-M15 from C. quadricarinatus and cloned its transcript from the molar-forming epithelium. Its transcript and differential expression were confirmed by a next-generation sequencing library. The predicted acidic pI of Cq-M15 suggests its possible involvement in mineral arrangement. Cq-M15 is expressed in several exoskeletal tissues at pre-molt and its silencing is lethal. Like other arthropod cuticular proteins, Cq-M15 possesses a chitin-binding Rebers-Riddiford domain, with a recombinant version of the protein found to bind chitin. Cq-M15 was also found to interact with calcium ions in a concentration-dependent manner. This latter property might make Cq-M15 useful for bone and dental regenerative efforts. We suggest that, in the molar tooth, this protein might be involved in calcium phosphate and/or carbonate precipitation.