Oocytes from many invertebrate and vertebrate species exhibit unique endoplasmic reticulum (ER) specializations (cortical ER clusters), which are thought to be essential for egg activation. In examination of cortical ER clusters, we observed that they were tethered to previously unreported fenestrae within the cortical actin layer. Furthermore, studies demonstrated that sperm preferentially bind to the plasma membrane overlying the fenestrae, establishing close proximity to underlying ER clusters. Moreover, following sperm–oocyte fusion, cortical ER clusters undergo a previously unrecognized global change in volume and shape that persists through sperm incorporation, before dispersing at the pronuclear stage. These changes did not occur in oocytes from females mated with Izumo1 –/– males. In addition to these global changes, highly localized ER modifications were noted at the sperm binding site as cortical ER clusters surround the sperm head during incorporation, then form a diffuse cloud surrounding the decondensing sperm nucleus. This study provides the first evidence that cortical ER clusters interact with the fertilizing sperm, indirectly through a previous unknown lattice work of actin fenestrae, and then directly during sperm incorporation. These observations raise the possibility that oocyte ER cluster–sperm interactions provide a competitive advantage to the oocyte, which may not occur during assisted reproductive technologies such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection.
Fertilization is followed by global changes in cortical endoplasmic reticulum cluster structure as well as localized changes at the sperm binding site.