Chemical communication in elephants has been well studied at the chemical and behavioural levels. Pheromones have been identified in the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), including (Z)-7-dodecenyl acetate and frontalin, and their specific effects on the sexual behaviour of elephants have been accurately documented. In contrast, our knowledge on the proteins mediating detection of pheromones in elephants remains poor and superficial, with only three annotated and reliable entries in sequence databases, two of them being odorant-binding proteins (OBPs), and the third a member of von Ebner's gland (VEG) proteins. Proteomic analysis of trunk wash extract from African elephant (Loxodonta africana) identified one of the OBPs (LafrOBP1) as the main component. We therefore expressed LafrOBP1 and its Asian elephant orthologue in yeast Pichia pastoris and found that both recombinant proteins, as well as the natural LafrOBP1 are tuned to (Z)-7-dodecenyl acetate, but have no affinity for frontalin. Both the natural and recombinant LafrOBP1 carry post-translational modifications such as O-glycosylation, phosphorylation and acetylation, but as these modifications affect only a very small amount of the protein, we cannot establish their potential effects on the ligand-binding properties of OBP1.
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