Chitin is a structural constituent of extracellular matrices including the cuticle of the exoskeleton and the peritrophic matrix (PM) of the midgut in arthropods. Chitin chains are synthesized through multiple biochemical reactions, organized in several hierarchical levels and associated with various proteins that give their unique physicochemical characteristics of the cuticle and PM. Because, arthropod growth and morphogenesis are dependent on the capability of remodeling chitin-containing structures, chitin biosynthesis and degradation are highly regulated, allowing ecdysis and regeneration of the cuticle and PM. Over the past 20 years, much progress has been made in understanding the physiological functions of chitinous matrices. In this chapter, we mainly discussed the biochemical processes of chitin biosynthesis, modification and degradation, and various enzymes involved in these processes. We also discussed cuticular proteins and PM proteins, which largely determine the physicochemical properties of the cuticle and PM. Although rapid advances in genomics, proteomics, RNA interference, and other technologies have considerably facilitated our research in chitin biosynthesis, modification, and metabolism in recent years, many aspects of these processes are still partially understood. Further research is needed in understanding how the structural organization of chitin synthase in plasma membrane accommodate chitin biosynthesis, transport of chitin chain across the plasma membrane, and release of the chitin chain from the enzyme. Other research is also needed in elucidating the roles of chitin deacetylases in chitin organization and the mechanism controlling the formation of different types of chitin in arthropods.
Keywords: Chitin biosynthesis; Chitin deacetylation; Chitin degradation; Cuticle; Peritrophic matrix.