Membrane fusion is important to reproduction because it occurs in several steps during the process of fertilization. Many events of intracellular trafficking occur during both spermiogenesis and oogenesis. The acrosome reaction, a key feature during mammalian fertilization, is a secretory event involving the specific fusion of the outer acrosomal membrane and the sperm plasma membrane overlaying the principal piece of the acrosome. Once the sperm has crossed the zona pellucida, the gametes fuse, but in the case of the sperm this process takes place through a specific membrane domain in the head, the equatorial segment. The cortical reaction, a process that prevents polyspermy, involves the exocytosis of the cortical granules to the extracellular milieu. In lower vertebrates, the formation of the zygotic nucleus involves the fusion (syngamia) of the male pronucleus with the female pronucleus. Other undiscovered membrane trafficking processes may also be relevant for the formation of the zygotic centrosome or other zygotic structures. In this review, we focus on the recent discovery of molecular machinery components involved in intracellular trafficking during mammalian spermiogenesis, notably related to acrosome biogenesis. We also extend our discussion to the molecular mechanism of membrane fusion during the acrosome reaction. The data available so far suggest that proteins participating in the intracellular trafficking events leading to the formation of the acrosome during mammalian spermiogenesis are also involved in controlling the acrosome reaction during fertilization.
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