Fertilization is a unique and exquisitely choreographed cellular interaction between the male and female gamete that results in the creation of a genetically unique individual. Despite the fundamental importance of fertilization, there remains a dearth of information about the basic biochemical mechanisms that underpin this process. One of the key issues that remain unresolved is the molecular basis of sperm–egg recognition. From the female perspective, it is well established that the sperm recognition sites reside in the zona pellucida (ZP), an acellular coat that surrounds the oocyte. In contrast, numerous studies into the cognate zona receptors residing on the sperm surface have failed to shed significant light on the biochemical identity of these molecules. Such difficulties may, in part, have arisen because investigations have traditionally been based on the precept that the zona receptor represents a single molecular entity that is constitutively expressed on the sperm surface. While such a view holds obvious appeal, it fails to account for growing evidence that gamete interaction is not mediated by a simple lock-and-key mechanism. In this review, we present a novel hypothesis in which the zona recognition site is portrayed as a multimeric molecular structure that is assembled into a functional complex during a maturation process known as ‘capacitation’. Furthermore, we consider the possibility that this previously cryptic complex is assembled and delivered to the outer surface of the sperm plasma membrane through the concerted action of several members of the molecular chaperone family of proteins.
Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology Vol. 240, Issue 1-2, p. 1-10