Thyone sperm were induced to undergo the acrosomal reaction with a calcium ionophore A23187 in sea water containing 50 mM excess CaCl2, and the extension of the acrosomal process was recorded with high-resolution, differential interference contrast video microscopy at 60 fields/sec. The length of the acrosomal process was measured at 0.25-s intervals on nine sperm. When the data were plotted as (length)2 vs. time, the points fell exactly on a straight line except for the initial and very final stages of elongation. Cytochalasin B alters the rate of elongation of the acrosomal process in a dose-dependent way, inhibiting the elongation completely at high concentrations (20 micrograms/ml). However, no inhibition was observed unless excess Ca++ was added to sea water. The concentration of actin in the periacrosomal cup of the unreacted sperm is as high as 160 mg/ml; we calculate this concentration from the number and lengths of the actin filaments in a fully reacted sperm, and the volume of the periacrosomal cup in the unreacted sperm. These results are consistent with the hypothesis proposed earlier that monomers add to the ends of the actin filaments situated at the tip of the growing acrosomal process (the preferred end for monomer addition), and that the rate of elongation of the process is limited by diffusion of monomers from the sperm head (periacrosomal cup) to the tip of the elongating process. During the extension of the acrosomal process, a few blebs distributed along its lengths move out with the process. These blebs maintain a constant distance from the tip of the growing process. At maximum length, the straight acrosomal process slackens into a bow, and numerous new blebs appear. A few seconds later, the process suddenly straightens out again and sometimes actually contracts. The behavior of the blebs indicates that membrane is inserted at the base of the growing acrosomal process, and that membrane assembly and water uptake must be coupled to actin assembly during elongation. We discuss how the dynamic balance of forces seems to determine the shape of the growing acrosomal process, and how actin assembly may be controlled during the acrosomal reaction.

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