Blue crab vitellogenin (VTG) cDNA encodes a precursor that, together with two other Brachyuran VTGs, forms a distinctive cluster within a phylogenetic tree of crustacean VTGs. Using quantitative RT-PCR, we found that VTG was primarily expressed in the hepatopancreas of a vitellogenic female, with minor expression in the ovary. VTG expression in the hepatopancreas correlated with ovarian growth, with a remarkable 8000-fold increase in expression from stage 3 to 4 of ovarian development. In contrast, the VTG levels in the hepatopancreas and hemolymph decreased in stage 4. Western blot analysis and N-terminal sequencing revealed that vitellin is composed of three subunits of ∼78.5 kDa, 119.42 kDa, and 87.9 kDa. The processing pathway for VTG includes an initial hepatopancreatic cleavage of the primary precursor into ∼78.5-kDa and 207.3-kDa subunits, both of which are found in the hemolymph. A second cleavage in the ovary splits the ∼207.3-kDa subunit into ∼119.4-kDa and ∼87.9-kDa subunits. The hemolymph VTG profiles of mated and unmated females during ovarian development indicate that early vitellogenesis and ovarian development do not require mating, which may be essential for later stages, as VTG decreased to the basal level at stage 4 in the unmated group but remained high in the mated females. Our results encompass comprehensive overall temporal and spatial aspects of vitellogenesis, which may reflect the reproductive physiology of the female blue crab, e.g., single mating and anecdysis in adulthood.
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Vol. 77 • No. 1