The natural silk spinning process. A nucleation-dependent aggregation mechanism?

Eur J Biochem. 2001 Dec;268(24):6600-6. doi: 10.1046/j.0014-2956.2001.02614.x.


The spinning mechanism of natural silk has been an open issue. In this study, both the conformation transition from random coil to beta sheet and the beta sheet aggregation growth of silk fibroin are identified in the B. mori regenerated silk fibroin aqueous solution by circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy. A nucleation-dependent aggregation mechanism, similar to that found in prion protein, amyloid beta (Abeta) protein, and alpha-synuclein protein with the conformation transition from a soluble protein to a neurotoxic, insoluble beta sheet containing aggregate, is a novel suggestion for the silk spinning process. We present evidence that two steps are involved in this mechanism: (a) nucleation, a rate-limiting step involving the conversion of the soluble random coil to insoluble beta sheet and subsequently a series of thermodynamically unfavorable association of beta sheet unit, i.e. the formation of a nucleus or seed; (b) once the nucleus forms, further growth of the beta sheet unit becomes thermodynamically favorable, resulting a rapid extension of beta sheet aggregation. The aggregation growth follows a first order kinetic process with respect to the random coil fibroin concentration. The increase of temperature accelerates the beta sheet aggregation growth if the beta sheet seed is introduced into the random coil fibroin solution. This work enhances our understanding of the natural silk spinning process in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bombyx / physiology*
  • Circular Dichroism
  • Insect Proteins*
  • Silk
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman
  • Thermodynamics


  • Insect Proteins
  • Silk