The 26S proteasome, which is a multi-subunit protease with specificity for substrate proteins that are postranslationally modified by ubiquitination, has been implicated in acrosomal function and sperm-zona pellucida (ZP) penetration during mammalian fertilization. Ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolases (UCHs) are responsible for the removal of polyubiquitin chains during substrate priming for proteasomal proteolysis. The inhibition of deubiquitination increases the rate of proteasomal proteolysis. Consequently, we have hypothesized that inhibition of sperm acrosome-borne UCHs increases the rate of sperm-ZP penetration and polyspermy during porcine in vitro fertilization (IVF). Ubiquitin aldehyde (UA), which is a specific nonpermeating UCH inhibitor, significantly (P < 0.05) increased polyspermy during porcine IVF and reduced (P < 0.05) UCH enzymatic activity measured in motile boar spermatozoa using a specific fluorometric UCH substrate, ubiquitin-AMC. Antibodies against two closely related UCHs, UCHL1 and UCHL3, detected these UCHs in the oocyte cortex and on the sperm acrosome, respectively, and increased the rate of polyspermy during IVF, consistent with the UA-induced polyspermy surge. In the oocyte, UCHL3 was primarily associated with the meiotic spindle. Sperm-borne UCHL3 was localized to the acrosomal surface and coimmunoprecipitated with a peripheral acrosomal membrane protein, spermadhesin AQN1. Recombinant UCHs, UCHL3, and isopeptidase T reduced polyspermy when added to the fertilization medium. UCHL1 was detected in the oocyte cortex but not on the sperm surface, and was partially degraded 6–8 h after fertilization. Enucleated oocyte-somatic cell electrofusion caused polarized redistribution of cortical UCHL1. We conclude that sperm-acrosomal UCHs are involved in sperm-ZP interactions and antipolyspermy defense. Modulation of UCH activity could facilitate the management of polyspermy during IVF and provide insights into male infertility.
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Vol. 77 • No. 5