The acrosome is a large secretory vesicle of the sperm head that carries enzymes responsible for the digestion of the oocyte's investments. The event leads to sperm penetration and allows fertilization to occur. Release of the acrosomal enzymes is mediated by the interaction between sperm acrosomal and plasma membranes (acrosome reaction). Biochemical characterization of the acrosomal membrane has been restrained by a lack of methods to isolate uncontaminated fractions of the membrane. Here, we use new methods to expose the membrane to in situ cytochemical labeling by lectin-gold complexes. We study the topology and relative density of glycoconjugates both across and along the plane of the acrosomal membrane of boar sperm. Detachment of the plasma membrane from glutaraldehyde-fixed cells exposed the cytoplasmic surface of the acrosome to the lectin markers; freeze-fractured halves of the acrosomal membrane were marked by "fracture-label" (Aguas, A. P., and P. Pinto da Silva, 1983, J. Cell Biol. 97:1356-1364). We show that the cytoplasmic surface of the intact acrosome is devoid of binding sites for both concanavalin A (Con A) and wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). By contrast, it contains a high density of neuraminidase-resistant anionic sites detected by cationic ferritin. On freeze-fractured sperm, the receptors for Con A partitioned with the exoplasmic membrane half of the acrosomal membrane. The Con A-binding glycoconjugates were accumulated on the equatorial segment of the membrane. A low density of WGA receptors, as well as of intramembrane particles, was found on the freeze-fracture halves of the acrosomal membrane. The plasma membrane displayed, in the same preparations, a high density of receptors for both Con A and WGA. We conclude that the acrosome is limited by a membrane poor in glycoconjugates, which are exclusively exposed on the exoplasmic side of the bilayer. Regionalization of Con A receptors on the acrosome shows that sperm intracellular membranes, like the sperm surface, express domain distribution of glycocomponents.

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