Gamete Interaction in the Sea Urchin A Model for Understanding the Molecular Details of Animal Fertilization

  • Alina C. Lopo
  • Victor D. Vacquier


Fertilization is the fusion of a sperm with an egg, resulting in the restoration of the diploid condition and the activation of the metabolically dormant egg, setting the zygote on the pathway to cleavage, organogenesis, and formation of an adult. Fertilization has been studied extensively for over 100 years because of curiosity about the mechanism that gives rise to a new generation. More recently, research on fertilization has become important because of the obvious applications to problems of fertility control. Fertilization also provides an excellent model system to study a variety of cellular phenomena. It is particularly useful as a model for studying cell adhesion and membrane fusion. Fertilization is a rare example of a natural fusion of the plasma membranes of two cells (reviewed in Epel and Vacquier 1978; others are myoblast fusion and fusion of placental trophoblast cells). In addition to the fusion of two plasma membranes, there are two exocytotic events associated with fertilization. One is the fusion of the sperm acrosome granule membrane with the overlying sperm plasma membrane; the second is the massive exocytosis of egg cortical granules seconds after sperm-egg fusion (Epel and Vacquier, 1978). Finally, fertilization is also an excellent model for the study of the biochemical activation of two cells. The sperm undergoes an activation in response to the external egg investments, involving ion fluxes, an increase in respiration, and a change in cell shape involving the polymerization of actin (Tilney et al., 1973). The egg undergoes a dramatic metabolic activation, involving a variety of physiological changes such as ion fluxes, membrane fluidity changes, a membrane depolarization, increases in nucleoside and amino acid transport, and a marked increase in macromolecular synthesis (Epel, 1978).


Zona Pellucida Acrosome Reaction Cortical Granule Sperm Surface Sperm Plasma Membrane 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alina C. Lopo
    • 1
  • Victor D. Vacquier
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnatomyUniversity of California Medical CenterSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Marine Biology Research Division, Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of CaliforniaSan Diego, La JollaUSA

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