Formation of the egg's extracellular matrix, the zona pellucida, is critical for fertilization and development of growing embryos. Zona pellucida glycoproteins, ZP1, ZP2, and ZP3, are secreted to form an insoluble extracellular matrix surrounding mammalian eggs. All cloned mammalian zona pellucida sequences contain a furin consensus cleavage site, RXK/RR, upstream of a putative transmembrane domain, which suggests processing by an endoprotease of the furin-proprotein-convertase family. Recombinant expression of human (h) ZP1, ZP2, and ZP3 produces glycoproteins that are secreted and have migration patterns in SDS-PAGE identical to those of native human zona pellucida proteins. Because a C-terminal epitope tag that is present in the cell-associated zona proteins is, however, absent from the secreted zona proteins, secreted recombinant zona pellucida proteins lack their C-terminal regions. Three different strategies were used to explore processing events in the C-terminal region: site-directed mutagenesis of the furin cleavage site, treatment with a competitive inhibitor of all furin family members, and interference with Golgi modifications by Brefeldin A. All treatments altered the SDS-PAGE migration of recombinant hZP3, concordant with cleavage by a furin family member and Golgi glycosylation of secreted hZP3. Furthermore, cleavage of cell-associated hZP3 by exogenous furin converts the migration of cell-associated hZP3 to that of secreted hZP3. To determine whether a similar cleavage pattern exists in zona pellucida proteins that are assembled in the zona matrix, “hZP3 rescue” mouse zonae pellucidae were employed. Immunoblotting experiments revealed that hZP3, assembled and functional in the “hZP3 rescue” mouse zona pellucida, lacks the furin cleavage site, supporting the hypothesis that formation of the zona pellucida matrix involves regulated proteolysis by a member of the furin convertase family.
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