The initial interaction between gametes takes place at the level of the sperm surface and the zona pellucida (ZP), the extracellular matrix of the egg in mammals. Successful fertilization requires the proper molecular recognition of the ZP by the sperm. Recently, human ZP was demonstrated to be composed of four proteins: ZP1, ZP2, ZP3, and ZP4. The goals of this study were to determine the effects of recombinant human ZP2, ZP3, and ZP4 on human sperm acrosomal exocytosis and sperm motility. Exposure of sperm to ZP proteins, alone or in combination, promoted acrosomal exocytosis in a time-dependent manner. This effect occurred in parallel with a considerable decrease in progressive motility, coincident with an increase in nonprogressive sperm motility. An analysis of kinetic parameters of ZP-treated sperm demonstrated that a characteristic motility pattern could be defined by values of curvilinear velocity > 63.9 μm/s and linearity ≤ 15.5%. A strong correlation between curvilinear velocity and the amplitude of lateral head displacement was also observed. The incidence of sperm having these particular kinetic parameters increased after exposure to ZP proteins. These studies of two processes involved in sperm penetration through the ZP confirm that zona glycoproteins promote acrosomal exocytosis and now establish an additional role for these components as modifiers of sperm motility.
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