Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 November 1999
Information on the dynamics of gamete interaction in marsupials is very limited and not available for any species from the major Australian Order Diprotodontia which includes most of the more familiar animals such as kangaroos, possums and the koala. This study addressed this deficiency by examining the ultrastructure of in vivo fertilised eggs from common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). Females were superovulated by treatment with 15 IU PMSG and then 4 mg porcine LH 3 days later, and inseminations were performed 910-13 h after LH) using epididymal spermatozoa. Between 33 and 39 h after LH injection females were killed, reproductive tracts excised and the oviduct ampulla segment flushed for eggs. Three of the six eggs examined were fertilised as judged by the presence of sperm remnants in the cytoplasm. On the basis of these eggs it was found that sperm penetration left a large hole in the zona pellucida (ZP), suggesting that sperm zona penetration occurs primarily by the enzymatic action of acrosomal enzymes. Sperm lying within the perivitelline space were lacking both an outer acrosomal membrane and the associated acrosomal contents, while both these structures were found on sperm embedded within the mucoid layer, which is consistent with induction of the acrosome reaction by binding to the ZP. Once inside the egg cytoplasm, the sperm head travelled only a short distance before chromatin decondensation occurred. Fertilised eggs showed signs of cytoplasmic activation including cytoskeleton association with apparently dividing mitochondria and prominent rough endoplasmic reticulum. Unfertilised eggs appeared to be undergoing degenerative changes and lacked any evidence of activation. This study has demonstrated that superovulation and laparoscopic intravaginal artificial insemination provide a system through which perifertilisation events in the possum and other monovular Australian marsupials can be examined experimentally.
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