The mammalian egg must be fertilized by only one sperm to prevent polyploidy. In most mammals studied to date, the primary block to polyspermy occurs at the zona pellucida, the mammalian egg coat, after exocytosis of the contents of the cortical granules into the perivitelline space. The exudate acts on the zona, causing it to lose its ability to bind sperm and to be penetrated by sperm previously bound to the zona. However, the cortical granule components responsible for the zona block have not been identified. Studies described herein demonstrate that N-acetylglucosaminidase is localized in cortical granules and is responsible for the loss in sperm-binding activity leading to the zona block to polyspermy. Before fertilization, sperm initially bind to the zona by an interaction between sperm surface GalTase and terminal N-acetylglucosamine residues on specific oligosaccharides of the zona glycoprotein ZP3 (Miller, D. J., M. B. Macek, and B. D. Shur. 1992. Nature (Lond.). 357:589-593). These GalTase-binding sites are lost from ZP3 after fertilization, an effect that can be duplicated by N-acetylglucosaminidase treatment. Therefore, N-acetylglucosaminidase, or a related glycosidase, may be present in cortical granules and be responsible for ZP3's loss of sperm-binding activity at fertilization. Of eight glycosidases assayed in exudates of ionophore-activated eggs, N-acetylglucosaminidase was 10-fold higher than any other activity. The enzyme was localized to cortical granules using immunoelectron microscopy. Approximately 70 or 90% of the enzyme was released from cortical granules after ionophore activation or in vivo fertilization, respectively. The isoform of N-acetylglucosaminidase found in cortical granules was identified as beta-hexosaminidase B, the beta, beta homodimer. Inhibition of N-acetylglucosaminidase released from activated eggs, with either competitive inhibitors or with specific antibodies, resulted in polyspermic binding to the zona pellucida. Another glycosidase inhibitor or nonimmune antibodies had no effect on sperm binding to activated eggs. Therefore, egg cortical granule N-acetylglucosaminidase is released at fertilization, where it inactivates the sperm GalTase-binding site, accounting for the block in sperm binding to the zona pellucida.

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