Mammalian spermatozoa acquire the ability to fertilize an oocyte as they ascend the female reproductive tract. This process is characterized by a complex cascade of biophysical and biochemical changes collectively know as “capacitation.” The attainment of a capacitated state is accompanied by a dramatic reorganization of the surface architecture to render spermatozoa competent to recognize the oocyte and initiate fertilization. Emerging evidence indicates that this process is facilitated by molecular chaperone-mediated assembly of a multimeric receptor complex on the sperm surface. However, the mechanisms responsible for gathering key recognition molecules within this putative complex have yet to be defined. In this study, we provide the first evidence that chaperones partition into detergent resistant membrane fractions (DRMs) within capacitated mouse spermatozoa and co-localize in membrane microdomains enriched with the lipid raft marker, GM1 ganglioside. During capacitation, these microdomains coalesce within the apical region of the sperm head, a location compatible with a role in sperm–zona pellucida interaction. Significantly, DRMs isolated from spermatozoa possessed the ability to selectively bind to the zona pellucida of unfertilized, but not fertilized, mouse oocytes. A comprehensive proteomic analysis of the DRM fractions identified a total of 100 proteins, a number of which have previously been implicated in sperm–oocyte interaction. Collectively, these data provide compelling evidence that mouse spermatozoa possess membrane microdomains that provide a platform for the assembly of key recognition molecules on the sperm surface and thus present an important mechanistic insight into the fundamental cell biological process of sperm–oocyte interaction.
Journal of Cellular Physiology Vol. 218, Issue 1, p. 122-134