To examine the freeze-fracture appearance of membrane alterations accompanying the preparation of sperm membranes for fusions-the first preparatory stage occurring before physiological release of the acrosomal content, the second afterward-we induced the acrosome reaction in capacitated guinea pig spermatozoa by adding calcium to the mixture. The most common features observed before fusion of the acrosomal and plasma membranes were the deletion of fibrillar intramembranous particles from the E-fracture faces of both membranes, and the clearance of globular particles from the P face of the plasma membrane-events taking place near the terminus of the equatorial segment. Large particles, >12nm, remained not far from the cleared E-face patches. The P face of the outer acrosomal membrane is virtually clear from the outset. In addition, when fusion was completed, occasional double lines of large particles transiently embossed the P face of the plasma membrane (postacrosomal) side of the fusion zone. Behind the line of fusion, another series of particle-cleared foci emerged. We interpreted these postfusion membrane clearances as a second adaptation for sperm-egg interaction. Induction of the acrosome reaction in media containing phosphatidylcholine liposomes resulted in their apparent attachment, incorporation, or exchange in both the originally and secondarily cleared regions. Our observations support the concepts that membranes become receptive to union at particle- deficient interfaces, and that the physiologically created barren areas in freeze-fracture replicas may herald incipient membrane fusion.

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