The roles of mucus-forming mucins, peritrophins and peritrophins with mucin domains in the insect midgut.
Most insects have a gut lined with a peritrophic membrane (PM) consisting of chitin and proteins, mainly peritrophins that have chitin-binding domains. The PM is proposed to originate from mucus-forming mucins (Mf-mucins), which acquired a chitin-binding domain that interlocked with chitin, replacing mucus in function. We evaluated the expression of Mf-mucins and peritrophins by RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) throughout the midgut of four distantly related insects. Mf-mucins were identified as proteins with high o-glycosylation and a series of uninterrupted Pro/Thr/Ser residues. The results demonstrate that the mucus layer is widespread in insects, and suggest that insect Mf-mucins are derived from those found in other animals by the loss of the cysteine knot and von Willebrand domains. The data also support a role of Mf-mucins in protecting the middle midgut of Musca domestica against acidic buffers. Mf-mucins may also produce a jelly-like material associated with the PM that immobilizes digestive enzymes in Spodoptera frugiperda. Peritrophins with a domain similar to Mf-mucins may be close to the ancestor of peritrophins. Expression data of peritrophins and chitin synthase genes throughout the midgut of M. domestica, S. frugiperda and Tenebrio molitor indicated that peritrophins were incorporated along the PM, according to their preferential sites of formation. Finally, the data support the view that mucus has functions distinct from the PM.