Vitelline envelopes (VEs) of Bufo arenarum were isolated in order to study their composition and their role in fertilization. VEs are composed of four glycoproteins, with molecular masses of 120, 75, 41, and 38 kDa. To characterize its biological properties, we quantitatively determined sperm-VE binding and the induction of the acrosome reaction. Heterologous binding of B. arenarum sperm to Xenopus laevis VE components was observed with about one-third the efficiency of homologous binding. Equivalent binding of X. laevis sperm to the B. arenarum VE was observed. When B. arenarum sperm were incubated with fluorescein isothiocyanate-labeled VE, the labeled glycoproteins bound to the anterior end of the sperm head, showing a lateral distribution. Induction of the acrosome reaction was evaluated by incubating sperm in hypotonic saline media with VE glycoproteins. VEs induced the acrosome reaction in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. The acrosome reaction was maximal after 10 min. The half-maximal effect was obtained at a glycoprotein concentration of 1 μg/ml. Specificity was determined using fertilization envelope glycoproteins, which failed to induce the acrosome reaction. The B. arenarum VE is biochemically similar to other egg envelopes. It also seems that its biological properties are similar to other species in regard to sperm binding and induction of the acrosome reaction. However, as far as we are aware, this is the first observation of the VE inducing the sperm acrosome reaction in amphibians. The relatively small differences observed in heterologous sperm-VE binding in X. laevis and B. arenarum are inconsistent with the current paradigm that species specificity in fertilization is regulated at the sperm-VE binding step.
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