Changes in the topography of the sea urchin egg after fertilization were studied by scanning and transmission electron microscopy. Strongylocentrotus purpuratus eggs were treated with dithiothreitol to modify the vitelline layer and to prevent formation of a fertilization membrane. Dithiothreitol treatment caused the microvilli to become more irregular in shape, length, and diameter than those of untreated eggs. The microvilli were similarly modified by trypsin treatment. This effect did not appear to be due to disruption of cytoskeletal elements beneath the plasma membrane, for neither colchicine nor cytochalasin B altered microvillar morphology. Thus, it appears that the vitelline layer may act in the maintenance of surface form of unfertilized eggs. Since dithiothreitol-treated eggs did not elevate a fertilization membrane, scanning electron microscopy could be used to directly observe modifications in the egg plasma membrane after fertilization. The wave of cortical granule exocytosis initiated at the point of attachment of the fertilizing sperm was characterized by the appearance of pits that subsequently opened, releasing the cortical granule contents and leaving depressions upon the egg surface. The perigranular membranes inserted during exocytosis were seen as smooth patches between the microvillous patches remaining from the original egg surface. This produced a mosaic surface with more than double the amount of membrane of unfertilized eggs. The mosaic surface subsequently reorganized to accommodate the inserted membrane material by elongation of microvilli. Blebs and membranous whorls present before reorganization suggested the existence of an unstable intermediate state of plasma membrane reorganization. Exocytosis and mosaic membrane formation were not blocked by colchicine or cytochalasin B, but microvillar elongation was blocked by cytochalasin B treatment.

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