Separation of an extract of corpora cardiaca from the protea beetle, Trichostetha fascicularis, by single-step RP (reverse-phase)-HPLC and monitoring of tryptophan fluorescence resulted in two distinctive peaks, the material of which mobilized proline and carbohydrates in a bioassay performed using the beetle. Material from one of these peaks was; however, inactive in the classical bioassays of locusts and cockroaches that are used for detecting peptides belonging to the AKH (adipokinetic hormone) family. After enzymatically deblocking the N-terminal pyroglutamic acid (pGlu) residue in the peptide material and sequencing by Edman degradation, a partial sequence was obtained: (pGlu)-Ile-Asn-Met-Thr-Xaa-Gly-Trp. The complete sequence was deduced from ESI-MSn (electrospray ionization multi-stage-MS); position six was identified as a phosphothreonine residue and the C-terminus is amidated. The peptide, code-named Trifa-CC, was chemically synthesized and used in confirmatory experiments to show that the primary structure had been correctly assigned. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a phosphorylated invertebrate neuropeptide. Synthetic Trifa-CC co-elutes with the natural peptide, found in the gland of the protea beetle, after RP-HPLC. Moreover, the natural peptide can be dephosphorylated by alkaline phosphatase and the product of that reaction has the same retention time as a synthetic nonphosphorylated octapeptide which has the same sequence as Trifa-CC. Finally, synthetic Trifa-CC has hypertrehalosaemic and hyperprolinaemic biological activity in the protea beetle, but even high concentrations of synthetic Trifa-CC are inactive in locusts and cockroaches. Hence, the correct peptide structure has been assigned. Trifa-CC of the protea beetle is an unusual member of the AKH family that is unique in its post-translational modification. Since it increases the concentration of carbohydrates and proline in the haemolymph when injected into the protea beetle, and since these substrates are also used during flight, we hypothesize that Trifa-CC controls the mobilization of these metabolites in the protea beetle.

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