Cortical granules, which are specialized secretory organelles found in ova of many organisms, have been isolated from the eggs of the sea urchins Arbacia punctulata and Strongylocentrtus pupuratus by a simple, rapid procedure. Electron micropscope examination of cortical granules prepared by this procedure reveals that they are tightly attached to large segments of the plasma membrane and its associated vitelline layer. Further evidence that he cortical granules were associated with these cell surface layers was obtained by (125)I-labeling techniques. The cortical granule preparations were found to be rich in proteoesterase, which was purified 32-fold over that detected in a crude homogenate. Similarly, the specific radioactivity of a (125)I-labeled, surface glycoprotein was increased 40-fold. These facts, coupled with electron microscope observations, indicate the isolation procedure yields a preparation in which both the cortical granules and the plasma membrane-vitelline layer are purified to the same extent.
Gel electrophoresis of the membrane-associated cortical granule preparation reveals the presence of at least eight polypeptides. The major polypeptide, which is a glycotprotein of apparent mol wt of 100,000, contains most of the radioactivity introduced by (125)I-labeling of the intact eggs. Lysis of the cortical granules is observed under hypotonic conditions, or under isotonic conditions if Ca(2+) ion is present. When lysis is under isotonic conditions is induced by addition of Ca(2+) ion, the electron-dense contents of the granules remain insoluble. In contrast, hypotonic lysis results in release of the contents of the granule in a soluble form. However, in both cases the (125)I-labeled glycoprotein remains insoluble, presumably because it is a component of either the plasma membrane or the vitelline layer. All these findings indicate that, using this purified preparation, it should be possible to carry out in vitro studies to better define some of the initial, surface-related events observed in vivo upon fertilization.