We used fracture-label and surface labeling techniques to characterize the distribution and topology of wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) receptors in the plasma membrane of boar sperm heads. We show that freeze-fracture results in preferential, but not exclusive, partition of WGA-binding sites with the outer (exoplasmic) half of the plasma membrane. Labeling of the inner (protoplasmic) half of the membrane is significant, and is denser over the areas that overlie the acrosome. Exoplasmic membrane halves are uniformly labeled. Analysis of freeze-fracture replicas revealed that the distribution of intramembrane particles over protoplasmic faces parallels that of WGA-binding sites as observed by fracture-label. Coating of intact spermatozoa with cationized ferritin results in drastic reduction of the labeling of both protoplasmic and exoplasmic membrane halves. Labeling of sperm cells lysed by short hypotonic shock fails to reveal the presence of WGA-binding sites at the inner surface of the plasma membrane. We conclude that: (a) all WGA-binding glycoconjugates are exposed at the outer surface of the membrane; (b) some of these glycoconjugates correspond to transmembrane glycoproteins that, on fracture, partition with the inner half of the membrane; (c) these transmembrane proteins are accumulated in the region of the plasma membrane that overlies the acrosome; and (d) parallel distribution of intramembrane particles and WGA-binding glycoproteins provides renewed support for the view of particles as the morphological counterpart of integral membrane proteins.

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