The extracellular coat, or zona pellucida, of mammalian eggs contains species-specific receptors to which sperm bind as a prelude to fertilization. In mice, ZP3, one of only three zona pellucida glycoproteins, serves as sperm receptor. Acrosome-intact, but not acrosome-reacted, mouse sperm recognize and interact with specific O-linked oligosaccharides of ZP3 resulting in sperm-egg binding. Binding, in turn, causes sperm to undergo the acrosome reaction; a membrane fusion event that results in loss of plasma membrane at the anterior region of the head and exposure of inner acrosomal membrane with its associated acrosomal contents. Bound, acrosome-reacted sperm are able to penetrate the zona pellucida and fuse with the egg's plasma membrane (fertilization). In the present report, we examined binding of radioiodinated, purified, egg ZP3 to both acrosome intact and acrosome reacted sperm by whole-mount autoradiography. Silver grains due to bound 125I-ZP3 were found localized to the acrosomal cap region of heads of acrosome-reacted sperm. Under the same conditions, 125I-fetuin bound at only bacKground levels to heads of both acrosome-intact and -reacted sperm, and 125I-ZP2, another zona pellucida glycoprotein, bound preferentially to acrosome-reacted sperm. These results provide visual evidence that ZP3 binds preferentially and specifically to heads of acrosome intact sperm; properties expected of the mouse egg's sperm receptor.

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