The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 52: 665 - 676 (2008)

Vol 52, Issue 5-6

Special Issue: Fertilization

Mammalian fertilization:the egg’s multifunctional zona pellucida

Published: 1 July 2008

Paul M. Wassarman* and Eveline S. Litscher

Department of Developmental and Regenerative Biology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, USA


The zona pellucida (ZP) is a specialized extracellular coat that surrounds the plasma membrane of mammalian eggs. Its presence is essential for successful completion of oogenesis, fertilization and preimplantation development. The ZP is composed of only a few glycoproteins which are organized into long crosslinked fibrils that constitute the extracellular coat. A hallmark of ZP glycoproteins is the presence of a ZP domain, a region of polypeptide responsible for polymerization of the glycoproteins into a network of interconnected fibrils. The mouse egg ZP consists of only three glycoproteins, called ZP1, ZP2, and ZP3, that are synthesized and secreted exclusively by growing oocytes. One of the glycoproteins, ZP3, serves as both a binding partner for sperm and inducer of sperm exocytosis, the acrosome reaction. Female mice lacking ZP3 fail to assemble a ZP around growing oocytes and are completely infertile. Sperm bind to the carboxy-terminal region of ZP3 polypeptide encoded by ZP3 exon-7 and binding is sufficient to induce sperm to complete the acrosome reaction. Whether sperm recognize and bind to ZP3 polypeptide, oligosaccharide, or both remains an unresolved issue. Purified ZP3 self-assembles into long homomeric fibrils under non-denaturing conditions. Apparently, sperm added to ZP3 bind to the fibrils and are prevented from binding to ovulated eggs in vitro. These, as well as other aspects of ZP structure and function are addressed in this article.


sperm, zona pellucida, acrosome reaction, ZP3, ZP domain, sperm combining-site

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