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Matrix Biol. 2001 Dec;20(8):515-25.

The dual functions of GPI-anchored PH-20: hyaluronidase and intracellular signaling.

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Department of Environmental Toxicology, Bodega Marine Laboratory, University of California Davis, P.O. Box 247, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA.


The ovulated mammalian oocyte is surrounded by the "cumulus ECM", composed of cells embedded in an extracellular matrix that is rich in hyaluronic acid (HA). The cumulus ECM is a viscoelastic gel that sperm must traverse prior to fertilization. Mammalian sperm have a GPI-anchored hyaluronidase which is known as PH-20 and also as SPAM 1. PH-20 is located on the sperm surface, and in the lysosome-derived acrosome, where it is bound to the inner acrosomal membrane. PH-20 appears to be a multifunctional protein; it is a hyaluronidase, a receptor for HA-induced cell signaling, and a receptor for the zona pellucida surrounding the oocyte. The zona pellucida recognition function of PH-20 was discovered first. This function is ascribed to the inner acrosomal membrane PH-20, which appears to differ biochemically from the PH-20 on the sperm surface. Later, when bee venom hyaluronidase was cloned, a marked cDNA sequence homology with PH-20 was recognized, and it is now apparent that PH-20 is the hyaluronidase of mammalian sperm. PH-20 is unique among the hyaluronidases in that it has enzyme activity at both acid and neutral pH, and these activities appear to involve two different domains in the protein. The neutral enzyme activity of plasma membrane PH-20 is responsible for local degradation of the cumulus ECM during sperm penetration. Plasma membrane PH-20 mediates HA-induced sperm signaling via a HA binding domain that is separate from the hyaluronidase domains. This signaling is associated with an increase in intracellular calcium and as a consequence, the responsiveness of sperm to induction of the acrosome reaction by the zona pellucida is increased. There is extensive evidence that GPI-anchored proteins are involved in signal transduction initiated by a diverse group of cell surface receptors. GPI-anchored proteins involved in signaling are often associated with signaling proteins bound to the cytoplasmic leaflet of the plasma membrane, typically Src family, non-receptor protein tyrosine kinases. PH-20 appears to initiate intracellular signaling by aggregating in the plasma membrane, and a 92-kDa protein may be the cell signaling molecule linked to PH-20.

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