Spiders spin a variety of task-specific silk fibers, each composed of one or more unique proteins synthesized within specialized glands in the spider's abdomen. Tubuliform glands are the source of the large diameter silk fibers used by many species in the construction of egg cases. Unlike other silk glands that synthesize protein throughout a spider's lifetime, the tubuliform glands synthesize silk in association with the maturation of oocytes, culminating in the production of an egg case. In the Western black widow, Lactrodectus hesperus Chamberlin & Ivie (1935), egg case fibers are composed of at least three proteins: tubuliform spidroin 1 (TuSp1), egg case protein-1 (ECP-1), and egg case protein-2 (ECP-2). Here, we present the first study to quantify the pattern of transcription for these three genes in a developmental series of tubuliform glands from L. hesperus. All three transcripts increase in abundance prior to the production of an egg case, but at different time points. After egg case production, silk transcripts are still detectable in the tubuliform glands. Relative abundance of TuSp1 mRNA is several orders of magnitude higher than that of ECP-1 and ECP-2 at almost every stage. The relative abundance of silk transcripts across the reproductive life history of black widows suggests differential regulation of silk gene transcription within tubuliform glands.
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