Eggs of the amphibian, Xenopus laevis, were quick-frozen, deep-etched, and rotary-shadowed. The structure of the extracellular matrix surrounding these eggs, including the perivitelline space and the vitelline envelope (VE), was visualized in platinum replicas by electron microscopy. The perivitelline space contains an elaborate filamentous glycocalyx which connects microvillar tips to the plasma membrane, to adjacent microvilli, and to the overlying VE. The VE is comprised of two layers, the innermost of which is a thin network of horizontal fibrils lying on the tips of the microvilli. The outermost is a thicker layer of large, cable-like fibers which twist and turn throughout the envelope. Upon fertilization, three dramatic modifications of the matrix occur. A thin sheet of smooth material, termed the smooth layer, is deposited on the tips of the microvilli and separates the egg from the overlying envelopes. The VE above is transformed from a thick band of cable-like fibers to concentric fibrous sheets, the altered VE. Finally, an ornate band of particles, corresponding to the fertilization layer in previous studies, is deposited at the altered VE/jelly interface. The altered VE and the fertilization layer comprise the fertilization envelope, which effects the structural block to polyspermy.

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