We have previously defined distinct localizations of antigens on the surface of the guinea pig sperm using monoclonal antibodies. In the present study we have demonstrated that these antigen localizations are dynamic and can be altered during changes in the functional state of the sperm. Before the sperm is capable of fertilizing the egg, it must undergo capacitation and an exocytic event, the acrosome reaction. Prior to capacitation, the antigen recognized by the monoclonal antibody, PT-1, was restricted to the posterior tail region (principle piece and end piece). After incubation in capacitating media at 37 degrees C for 1 h, 100% of the sperm population showed migration of the PT-1 antigen onto the anterior tail. This redistribution of surface antigen resulted from a migration of the surface molecules originally present on the posterior tail. It did not occur in the presence of metabolic poisons or when tail-beating was prevented. It was temperature-dependent, and did not require exogenous Ca2+. Since the PT-1 antigen is freely diffusing on the posterior tail before migration, the mechanism of redistribution could involve the alteration of a presumptive membrane barrier. In addition, we observed the redistribution of a second surface antigen after the acrosome reaction. The antigen recognized by the monoclonal antibody, PH-20, was localized exclusively in the posterior head region of acrosome-intact sperm. Within 7-10 min of induction of the acrosome reaction with Ca2+ and A23187, 90-100% of the acrosome-reacted sperm population no longer demonstrated binding of the PH-20 antibody on the posterior head, but showed binding instead on the inner acrosomal membrane. This redistribution of the PH-20 antigen also resulted from the migration of pre-existing surface molecules, but did not appear to require energy. The migration of PH-20 antigen was a selective process; other antigens localized to the posterior head region did not leave the posterior head after the acrosome reaction. These rearrangements of cell surface molecules may act to regulate cell surface function during fertilization.

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