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J Electron Microsc Tech. 1991 Mar;17(3):294-318.

Fertilization-induced changes in the vitelline envelope of echinoderm and amphibian eggs: self-assembly of an extracellular matrix.

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Division of Cell and Molecular Biology, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


The surface of the unfertilized sea urchin egg is covered by the vitelline layer (VL), a fibrous extracellular matrix that contains receptors for sperm. At fertilization, cortical granule exocytosis releases enzymes and structural proteins that cause the VL to elevate and become remodelled into the mechanically and chemically tough fertilization envelope. This envelope prevents further penetration of sperm and protects the embryo during early development. A thicker, more complex vitelline envelope surrounds the Xenopus laevis egg. This fibrous coat is also restructured at fertilization to produce an impenetrable barrier to sperm. The biochemical steps that occur during self-assembly of these fertilization envelopes are reviewed, and the ultrastructural changes that occur, as seen in platinum replicas of quick-frozen, deep-etched, and rotary-shadowed eggs, are illustrated.

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