Researchers have capitalized on the unique properties of a sperm cell to follow cell membrane fusion as it occurs during fertilization, tracking the full cascade of events for the first time. The findings could reveal new ways to enhance or block fertilization, as well as how to control the secretion of neurotransmitters and hormones such as insulin.
Luis Mayorga, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) international research scholar, and colleagues at the National University of Cuyo School of Medicine in Mendoza, Argentina, took advantage of the cellular specialization that gives sperm one irreversible chance to fertilize an egg.
The group followed the sperms secretion of the enzymes used to penetrate the protective outer coating that surrounds an egg. "Because the sperm has a single opportunity, this secretion has to be very well-regulated," said Mayorga. "If the sperm doesnt respond right on time, it wont get through the eggs coating." And since fertilization is one-way and all-or-nothing, so too is the fusion event that releases the sperms enzymes. This tight control enabled Mayorgas laboratory to capture a molecular movie of fusion as it unfolded. Their findings will be published in the September issue of the journal Public Library of Science Biology.
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