Send to

Choose Destination
Hum Reprod Update. 2016 Jun;22(4):420-39. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmw014. Epub 2016 Jun 8.

Gamete activation: basic knowledge and clinical applications.

Author information

Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Villa Comunale, Naples 80121, Italy
London Fertility Associates, 104 Harley Street, London WIG7JD, UK.



The first clues to the process of gamete activation date back to nearly 60 years ago. The mutual activation of gametes is a crucial event during fertilization. In the testis and ovaries, spermatozoa and oocytes are in a state of meiotic and metabolic quiescence and require reciprocal signals in order to undergo functional changes that lead to competence for fertilization. First, the oocyte activates sperm by triggering motility, chemoattraction, binding and the acrosome reaction, culminating with the fusion of the two plasma membranes. At the end of this cascade of events, collectively known as sperm capacitation, sperm-induced oocyte activation occurs, generating electrical, morphological and metabolic modifications in the oocyte.


The aim of this review is to provide the current state of knowledge regarding the entire process of gamete activation in selected specific animal models that have contributed to our understanding of fertilization in mammals, including humans. Here we describe in detail the reciprocal induction of the two activation processes, the molecules involved and the mechanisms of cell interaction and signal transduction that ultimately result in successful embryo development and creation of a new individual.


We carried out a literature survey with no restrictions on publication date (from the early 1950s to March 2016) using PubMed/Medline, Google Scholar and Web of Knowledge by utilizing common keywords applied in the field of fertilization and embryo development. We also screened the complete list of references published in the most recent research articles and relevant reviews published in English (both animal and human studies) on the topics investigated.


Literature on the principal animal models demonstrates that gamete activation is a pre-requisite for successful fertilization, and is a process common to all species studied to date. We provide a detailed description of the dramatic changes in gamete morphology and behavior, the regulatory molecules triggering gamete activation and the intracellular ions and second messengers involved in active metabolic pathways in different species. Recent scientific advances suggest that artificial gamete activation may represent a novel technique to improve human IVF outcomes, but this approach requires caution.


Although controversial, manipulation of gamete activation represents a promising tool for ameliorating the fertilization rate in assisted reproductive technologies. A better knowledge of mechanisms that transform the quiescent oocyte into a pluripotent cell may also provide new insights for the clinical use of stem cells.


ICSI; IVF; artificial oocyte activation; assisted reproductive technology; fertilization; gamete activation; oocyte; reproduction; sperm

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Silverchair Information Systems Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center