Structural and functional analysis of Aplysia attractins, a family of water-borne protein pheromones with interspecific attractiveness

Sherry D. Painter, Scott F. Cummins, Amy E. Nichols, David B.G. Akalal, Catherine H. Schein, Werner Braun, John S. Smith, Abraham J. Susswein, Miriam Levy, Pamela A.C.M. De Boer, Andries Ter Maat, Mark W. Miller, Cory Scanlan, Richard M. Milberg, Jonathan V. Sweedler, Gregg T. Nagle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Mate attraction in Aplysia involves a long-distance water-borne signal (the protein pheromone attractin), which is released during egg laying. Aplysia californica attractin attracts species that produce closely related attractins, such as Aplysia brasiliana, whose geographic distribution does not overlap that of A. californica. This finding suggests that other mollusks release attractin-related pheromones to form and maintain breeding aggregations. We describe four additional members of the attractin family: A. brasiliana, Aplysia fasciata, Aplysia depilans (which aggregates with A. fasciata aggregations), and Aplysia vaccaria (which aggregates with A. californica aggregations). On the basis of their sequence similarity with A. californica attractin, the attractin proteins fall into two groups: A. californica, A. brasiliana, and A. fasciata (91-95% identity), and A. depilans and A. vaccaria (41-43% identity). The sequence similarity within the attractin family, the conserved six cysteines, and the compact fold of the NMR solution structure of A. californica attractin suggest a common fold for this pheromone family containing two antiparallel helices. The second helix contains the IEECKTS sequence conserved in Aplysia attractins. Mutating surface-exposed charged residues within this heptapeptide sequence abolishes attractin activity, suggesting that the second helix is an essential part of the receptor-binding interface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6929-6933
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - 4 May 2004


FundersFunder number
National Institute of General Medical SciencesS06GM008224
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and StrokeR01NS031609


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