The organization of membrane subdomains in mammalian sperm has recently generated controversy, with several reports describing widely differing localization patterns for the ganglioside GM1. Using the pentameric B subunit of cholera toxin (CTB), we found GM1 to be restricted to the plasma membrane overlying the acrosome in the heads of live murine sperm. Interestingly, CTB had minimal binding to live bovine and human sperm. To investigate whether this difference in GM1 localization was because of species differences or differences between collection from the epididymis (mouse) or an ejaculate (bull, human), we examined epididymal bovine and human sperm. We found that GM1 localized to the plasma membrane overlying the acrosome in sperm from these species. To determine whether some component of seminal plasma was interfering with the ability of CTB to access GM1, we incubated epididymal mouse sperm with fluid from murine seminal vesicles and epididymal bull sperm with bovine seminal plasma. This treatment largely abolished the ability of the CTB to bind to GM1, producing a fluorescence pattern similar to that reported for the human. The most abundant seminal plasma protein, PDC-109, was not responsible for this loss. As demonstration that the seminal plasma was not removing GM1, sperm exposed to seminal plasma were fixed before CTB addition, and again displayed fluorescence over the acrosome. These observations reconcile inconsistencies reported for the localization of GM1 in sperm of different species, and provide evidence for the segregation of GM1 to a stable subdomain in the plasma membrane overlying the acrosome.
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