Sperm binding to the egg zona pellucida in mammals is a cell-cell adhesion process that is generally species specific. The guinea pig sperm protein PH-20 has a required function in sperm adhesion to the zona pellucida of guinea pig eggs. PH-20 is located on both the sperm plasma membrane and acrosomal membrane. We report here the isolation and sequence of a full-length cDNA for PH-20 (available from EMBL/GenBank/DDBJ under accession number X56332). The derived amino acid sequence shows a mature protein of 468 amino acids containing six N-linked glycosylation sites and twelve cysteines, eight of which are tightly clustered near the COOH terminus. The sequence indicates PH-20 is a novel protein with no relationship to the mouse sperm adhesion protein galactosyl transferase and no significant homology with other known proteins. The two PH-20 populations, plasma membrane and acrosomal membrane, could arise because one form of PH-20 is encoded and differentially targeted at different spermatogenic stages. Alternatively, two different forms of PH-20 could be encoded. Our evidence thus far reveals only one sequence coding for PH-20: Southern blots of guinea pig genomic DNA indicated there is a single PH-20 gene, Northern blots showed a single size PH-20 message (approximately 2.2 kb), and no sequence variants were found among the sequenced cDNA clones. Cross-species Southern blots reveal the presence of a homologue of the PH-20 gene in mouse, rat, hamster, rabbit, bovine, monkey, and human genomic DNA, showing the PH-20 gene is conserved among mammals. Since genes for zona glycoproteins are also conserved among mammals, the general features of sperm and zona proteins involved in mammalian sperm-egg adhesion may have been evolutionarily maintained. Species specificity may result from limited changes in these molecules, either in their binding domains or in other regions that affect the ability of the binding domains to interact.

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