The adult cuticle of the soil nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, is a proteinaceous extracellular structure elaborated by the underlying layer of hypodermal cells during the final molt in the animal's life cycle. The cuticle is composed of an outer cortical layer connected by regularly arranged struts to an inner basal layer. The cuticle can be isolated largely intact and free of all cellular material by sonication and treatment with 1% sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS). Purified cuticles exhibit a negative material in the basal cuticle layer. The cuticle layers differ in their solubility in sulfhydryl reducing agents, susceptibility to various proteolytic enzymes and amino acid composition. The struts, basal layer, and internal cortical layer are composed of collagen proteins that are extensively cross-linked by disulfide bonds. The external cortical layer appears to contain primarily noncollagen proteins that are extensively cross-linked by nonreducible covalent bonds. The collagen proteins extracted from the cuticle with a reducing agent can be separated by SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis into eight major species differing in apparent molecular weight.

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