Animal eggs are generally encased in one or more extra-cellular coats that protect the egg from biological, chemical and mechanical hazards. These coats contain some essential molecules for sperm to fertilise an appropriate egg, such as the specific ligand for sperm binding and the specific signal for induction of the acrosome reaction. In starfish, the outermost egg coat is a relatively thick gelatinous layer called the jelly coat. When starfish sperm encounter the jelly coat of homologous eggs, they undergo the acrosome reaction within a second or less (Dale et al., 1981; Ikadai & Hoshi, 1981; Sase et al., 1995). We have thus searched the jelly coat for the signal molecule(s) that triggers the acrosome reaction in the starfish, Asterias amurensis. It is known that three components in the jelly coat, namely acrosome reaction-inducing substance (ARIS), Co-ARIS and asterosap, act in concert on homologous spermatozoa to elicit the acrosome reaction immediately and efficiently (Hoshi et al., 1994,1999).
ARIS alone induces the acrosome reaction only in high calcium or high pH seawater. In normal seawater, besides ARIS, either Co-ARIS or asterosap is required for the induction. Without ARIS, no combination of Co-ARIS and asterosap can induce the acrosome reaction in normal, high calcium or high pH seawater. A mixture of ARIS and Co-ARIS increases the intracellular Ca2+ level, whereas asterosap increases the intra-cellular pH (Matsui et al., 1986a, b; Nishigaki et al., 1996). These events are prerequisites for the induction of the acrosome reaction. Indeed, the triad of ARIS, CoARIS and asterosap provides the best conditions for the induction of the acrosome reaction in normal sea-water (Hoshi et al., 1994, 1999).