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J Reprod Immunol. 2002 Jan;53(1-2):181-92.

Interactions between zona pellucida glycoproteins and sperm proacrosin/acrosin during fertilization.

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Gamete Signalling Laboratory, The Babraham Institute, Cambridge CB2 4AT, UK.


Fertilization is one of the most specific and carefully regulated cell-cell interactions in the animal body and is determined to a large extent by compatibility between ligand and receptor molecules on the surface of each gamete. On the zona pellucida (ZP), sperm receptor activity is associated with glycoproteins ZP3 (primary receptor for acrosome-intact sperm) and ZP2 (secondary receptor for acrosome-reacted sperm) but their complementary binding proteins on sperm are less well defined. In this communication we review the evidence for proacrosin as a secondary ZP binding protein. Proacrosin/acrosin binds non-enzymically to ZP glycoproteins. Binding is a strong ionic interaction between polysulphate groups on ZP glycoproteins (probably on their carbohydrate moieties) and basic residues on the surface of proacrosin. The stereochemistry of the reactants is crucial and determines to a large extent the affinity of binding. Site-directed mutagenesis and a 3D-structural analysis of boar and ram acrosin have identified 2 clusters of basic residues potentially involved in binding. A polysulphonated anticancer drug, suramin, has been shown to bind strongly to proacrosin/acrosin and to inhibit sperm-egg binding in vitro. In the mouse model, 125I-ZP2 and 3H-suramin bind approximately 65% less effectively to acrosin 'null' sperm than to wild-type sperm. Neither ZP2 nor suramin bind to acrosome intact sperm and can, therefore, only exert their effects after exposure of the acrosomal contents. Overall, this combination of biochemical, genetic and functional data supports the hypothesis that proacrosin is a multifunctional protein with a significant role in retaining acrosome-reacted sperm on the ZP surface long enough to enable ZP penetration to begin.

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