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Dev Biol. 1997 Jul 1;187(1):94-106.

Characterization of the binding of recombinant mouse sperm fertilin alpha subunit to mouse eggs: evidence for function as a cell adhesion molecule in sperm-egg binding.

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Center for Research on Reproduction and Women's Health, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104, USA.


Fertilin (previously known as PH-30) is a sperm protein that is a candidate molecule for mediating the binding and fusion of the sperm and egg plasma membranes. Fertilin is a heterodimer, with a beta subunit that has a region of homology to the disintegrin family of integrin ligands and an alpha subunit that has a region of homology to viral fusion peptides. It has been hypothesized that fertilin beta and alpha subunits mediate the interactions between sperm and egg plasma membranes, namely, binding and fusion, respectively. To address this hypothesis and to examine specifically the role of fertilin alpha in fertilization, we have expressed the predicted extracellular domain of mouse fertilin alpha as a bacterial fusion protein with maltose-binding protein. This fusion protein (hereafter referred to as recombinant fertilin alpha-EC) binds to the microvillar region of zona pellucida (ZP)-free eggs, the region of the membrane to which sperm bind. This binding is reduced in the absence of divalent cations and is supported by Ca2+, Mg2+, or Mn2+. Eggs that have been treated with chymotrypsin bind less recombinant fertilin alpha-EC than do untreated eggs, suggesting that a chymotrypsin-sensitive binding site for recombinant fertilin alpha-EC is present on egg surfaces. Binding to eggs is also affected by the method used to remove the ZP. Finally, recombinant fertilin alpha-EC inhibits the binding of sperm to eggs during in vitro fertilization of ZP-free eggs. These data are the first evidence to suggest that fertilin alpha can function as a cell adhesion molecule during fertilization, mediating the binding of sperm and egg plasma membranes.

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