Mechanics of sperm-egg interaction at the zona pellucida.
Mammalian sperm traverse several layers of egg vestments before fertilization can occur. The innermost vestment, the zona pellucida, is a glycoprotein shell, which captures and tethers the sperm before they penetrate it. We report here direct measurements of the force required to tether a motile human sperm as well as independent calculations of this force using flagellar beat parameters observed for sperm of several species on their homologous zonae. We have compared these sperm-generated forces with the calculated tensile strength of sperm-zona bonds, and found that a motile sperm can be tethered, at least temporarily, by a single bond. Therefore, sperm can be captured by the first bond formed and tethered permanently by a few. The sperm cannot subsequently penetrate the zona unless the bonds are first eliminated. However, premature elimination would simply allow the sperm to escape. Therefore, not only must the bonds be eliminated, but the timing of this must be regulated so that the sperm is already oriented toward the egg and beginning to penetrate as the bonds are broken.
Baltz, JM; Katz, DF; Cone, RA
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