We are studying the regulation of ion transport in sperm physiology. Sperm ion permeability is modulated by components from the outer layer of the egg which, depending on the species, regulate sperm motility, Chemotaxis and the acrosome reaction (AR). This reaction is required for sperm to fertilise the egg in many species from sea urchins to man (Darszon et al., 1999).
Speract, a decapeptide from the external layer of Strongylocentrotus purpuratus sea urchin eggs, influences sperm respiration, motility and possibly the AR. Signal transduction starts when speract binds to a protein of 77 kDa closely coupled to sperm guanylyl cyclase (Garbers, 1989). Our recent receptor binding experiments using fluorescent-labelled speract (fluorescein and rhodamine) have allowed estimates of the association (k
on 2.4 × 107 M−1s−1) and dissociation rate constants (k
off 1.3 × 10−4 s−1). Furthermore, studies with fluorescent speract analogues indicate that the receptor undergoes conformational changes that depend on intracellular pH (pHi). The overall results are consistent with the possibility that speract may induce in sea urchin sperm a hyperactivated-like flagellar movement inside the jelly coat to accelerate sperm penetration through this layer.