Rat epididymal protein DE associates with the sperm surface during epididymal maturation and is a candidate molecule for mediating gamete membrane fusion in the rat. Here, we provide evidence supporting a role for DE in mouse sperm-egg fusion. Western blot studies indicated that the antibody against rat protein DE can recognize the mouse homologue in both epididymal tissue and sperm extracts. Indirect immunofluorescence studies using this antibody localized the protein on the dorsal region of the acrosome. Experiments in which zona-free mouse eggs were coincubated with mouse capacitated sperm in the presence of DE showed a significant and concentration-dependent inhibition in the percentage of penetrated eggs, with no effect on either the percentage of oocytes with bound sperm or the number of sperm bound per egg. Immunofluorescence experiments revealed specific DE-binding sites on the fusogenic region of mouse eggs. Because mouse sperm can penetrate zona-free rat eggs, the participation of DE in this interaction was also investigated. The presence of the protein during gamete coincubation produced a significant reduction in the percentage of penetrated eggs, without affecting the binding of sperm to the oolemma. These observations support the involvement of DE in an event subsequent to sperm-egg binding and leading to fusion in both homologous (mouse-mouse) and heterologous (mouse-rat) sperm-egg interaction. The lack of disintegrin domains in DE indicates that the protein interacts with its egg-binding sites through a novel mechanism that does not involve the reported disintegrin-integrin interaction.
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