The nuclei of bovine spermatids and spermatozoa are surrounded by dense cytoplasmic webs sandwiched between the nuclear envelope and the acrosome and plasma membrane, respectively, filling most of the cytoplasmic space of the sperm head. This web contains a complex structure, the perinuclear theca, which is characterized by resistance to extractions in nondenaturing detergents and high salt buffers, and can be divided into two major subcomponents, the subacrosomal layer and the postacrosomal calyx. Using calyces isolated from bull and rat spermatozoa we have identified two kinds of basic proteins as major constituents of the thecal structure and have localized them by specific antibodies at the light and electron microscopic level. These are an Mr 60,000 protein, termed calicin, localized almost exclusively to the calyx, and a group of multiple-band polypeptides (MBP; Mr 56,000-74,000), which occur in both the calyx and the subacrosomal layer. The polypeptides of the MBP group are immunologically related to each other, but unrelated, by antibody reactions and peptide maps, to calicin. We show that these basic cytoskeletal proteins are first detectable in the round spermatid stage. As we have not detected any intermediate filament proteins and proteins related to nuclear lamins of somatic cells in sperm heads, we conclude that the perinuclear theca and its constituents, calicin and MBP proteins, are the predominant cytoskeletal elements of the sperm head. Immunologically cross-reacting polypeptides with similar properties have been identified in the heads of rat and human spermatozoa. We speculate that these insoluble basic proteins contribute, during spermiogenesis, to the formation of the perinuclear theca as an architectural element involved in the shape changes and the intimate association of the nucleus with the acrosome and the plasma membrane.

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