Zonadhesin is a sperm protein that binds in a species-specific manner to the extracellular matrix ZP (zona pellucida) of the mammalian oocyte. The pig zonadhesin precursor is a 267000-Da mosaic protein with a Type I membrane topology and a large extracellular region comprising meprin/A5 antigen/mu receptor tyrosine phosphatase, mucin and five tandem von Willebrand D (VWD) domains. Multiple mature forms of zonadhesin in the sperm head differ in their avidities for the ZP. To determine the potential functions of zonadhesin forms in gamete adhesion, we characterized the processing, activation and localization of protein in pig spermatozoa. The predominant polypeptides of processed zonadhesin were Mr 300000 (p300), 105000 (p105) and 45000 (p45). p45 and p105, comprised primarily the D1, D2–D3 domains respectively, and were N-glycosylated. p300 was heavily O-glycosylated, and spanned the meprin/A5 antigen/mu receptor tyrosine phosphatase, mucin and D0 domains. Hydrolysis of the precursor polypeptide occurred in the testis, and N-terminal sequencing of p45 and p105 identified Asp806-Pro and Asp1191-Pro in the D1 and D2 domains respectively as bonds cleaved in the protein's functional maturation. Testicular zonadhesin was extractable with non-ionic detergents, and localized to the developing outer acrosomal membrane of round and elongating spermatids. As spermatozoa transited the epididymis, most of the protein became incorporated into an extraction-resistant fraction, and the proportions of active and of multimeric zonadhesins in the cells increased. Zonadhesin localized to the perimeter of the acrosome in intact ejaculated spermatozoa and to the leading edge of acrosomal matrix overlying cells with disrupted acrosomal membranes. We conclude that the zonadhesin precursor is specifically proteolysed, glycosylated and assembled into particulate structures in the distal parts of the acrosome where it may mediate specific adhesion to the ZP during the initial stages of acrosomal exocytosis.

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