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Volume 2, Issue 2 (June 2000) 2, 87–97;

Carbohydrates mediate sperm-ovum adhesion and triggering of the acrosome reaction

D.R.P. Tulsiani

Departments of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Cell Biology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Room D-3243 MCN, Nashville, Tennessee 37232-2633, USA

Advance online publication 1 June 2000


The fertilization process is the net result of a complex sequence of events that collectively result in the fusion of the opposite gametes. The male gamete undergoes continuous morphological and biochemical modifications during sperm development in the testis (spermatogenesis), maturation in the epididymis, and capacitation in the female reproductive tract. Only the capacitated spermatozoa are able to recognize and bind to the bioactive glycan residue(s) on the ovum's extracellular coat, the zona pellucida (ZP). Sperm-zona binding in the mouse and several other species is believed to take place in two stages. First, capacitated (acrosome-intact) spermatozoa loosely and reversibly adhere to the zona-intact ovum. In the second stage tight irreversible binding occurs. Both types of bindings are attributed to the presence of glycan-binding proteins (receptors) on the sperm plasma membrane and their complementary bioactive glycan units (ligands) on the surface of the ZP. The carbohydrate-mediated adhesion event initiates a signal transduction cascade resulting in the exocytosis of acrosomal contents. This step is believed to be prerequisite which allows the hyperactivated acrosome-reacted spermatozoa to penetrate the ZP and fertilize the ovum. This review focuses on the role of carbohydrate residues in sperm-ovum interaction, and triggering of the acrosome reaction. I have attempted to discuss extensive progress that has been made to enhance our understanding of the well programmed multiple molecular events necessary for successful fertilization. This review will identify these events, and discuss the functional significance of carbohydrates in these events.

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