Rat epididymal protein CRISP1 (cysteine-rich secretory protein 1) associates with sperm during maturation and participates in fertilization. Evidence indicates the existence of two populations of CRISP1 in sperm: one loosely bound and released during capacitation, and one strongly bound that remains after this process. However, the mechanisms underlying CRISP1 binding to sperm remain mostly unknown. Considering the high concentrations of Zn2 present in the epididymis, we investigated the potential involvement of this cation in the association of CRISP1 with sperm. Caput sperm were coincubated with epididymal fluid in the presence or absence of Zn2 , and binding of CRISP1 to sperm was examined by Western blot analysis. An increase in CRISP1 was detected in sperm exposed to Zn2 , but not if the cation was added with ethylenediaminetetra-acetic acid (EDTA). The same results were obtained using purified CRISP1. Association of CRISP1 with sperm was dependent on epididymal fluid and Zn2 concentrations and incubation time. Treatment with NaCl (0.6 M) removed the in vitro-bound CRISP1, indicating that it corresponds to the loosely bound population. Flow cytometry of caput sperm exposed to biotinylated CRISP1/avidin-fluorescein isothiocyanate revealed that only the cells incubated with Zn2 exhibited an increase in fluorescence. When these sperm were examined by epifluorescence microscopy, a clear staining in the tail, accompanied by a weaker labeling in the head, was observed. Detection of changes in the tryptophan fluorescence emission spectra of CRISP1 when exposed to Zn2 supported a direct interaction between CRISP1 and Zn2 . Incubation of either cauda epididymal fluid or purified CRISP1 with Zn2 , followed by native-PAGE and Western blot analysis, revealed the presence of high-molecular-weight CRISP1 complexes not detected in fluids treated with EDTA. Altogether, these results support the involvement of CRISP1-Zn2 complexes in the association of the loosely bound population of CRISP1 with sperm during epididymal maturation.
Epididymal CRISP1 weakly associates with rat sperm by a zinc-mediated mechanism that involves the formation of high-molecular-weight complexes between the protein and the cation.