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Reproduction. 2011 Jul;142(1):1-14. doi: 10.1530/REP-11-0041. Epub 2011 May 23.

Sperm proteasome and fertilization.

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Division of Animal Sciences, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women's Health, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri 65211-5300, USA.


The omnipresent ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) is an ATP-dependent enzymatic machinery that targets substrate proteins for degradation by the 26S proteasome by tagging them with an isopeptide chain composed of covalently linked molecules of ubiquitin, a small chaperone protein. The current knowledge of UPS involvement in the process of sperm penetration through vitelline coat (VC) during human and animal fertilization is reviewed in this study, with attention also being given to sperm capacitation and acrosome reaction/exocytosis. In ascidians, spermatozoa release ubiquitin-activating and conjugating enzymes, proteasomes, and unconjugated ubiquitin to first ubiquitinate and then degrade the sperm receptor on the VC; in echinoderms and mammals, the VC (zona pellucida/ZP in mammals) is ubiquitinated during oogenesis and the sperm receptor degraded during fertilization. Various proteasomal subunits and associated enzymes have been detected in spermatozoa and localized to sperm acrosome and other sperm structures. By using specific fluorometric substrates, proteasome-specific proteolytic and deubiquitinating activities can be measured in live, intact spermatozoa and in sperm protein extracts. The requirement of proteasomal proteolysis during fertilization has been documented by the application of various proteasome-specific inhibitors and antibodies. A similar effect was achieved by depletion of sperm-surface ATP. Degradation of VC/ZP-associated sperm receptor proteins by sperm-borne proteasomes has been demonstrated in ascidians and sea urchins. On the applied side, polyspermy has been ameliorated by modulating sperm-associated deubiquitinating enzymes. Diagnostic and therapeutic applications could emerge in human reproductive medicine. Altogether, the studies on sperm proteasome indicate that animal fertilization is controlled in part by a unique, gamete associated, extracellular UPS.

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