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Assignment 1

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Topic: Fertilization
1.1 Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of the lecture, you should be able to:

1. Discuss the sequential nature of fertilization in which ordered changes in

the gametes “drive”the process of fertilization toward completion.
2. Explain the role of specialized sperm and egg surface structures
3. Explain the current state of knowledge about sperm-egg membrane fusion
and how spermcomponents are incorporated into the egg.
4. Describe how polyspermy is prevented and the fertilized egg is activated
for development.


Human fertilization is a complicated process that results in a

fertilized egg. The fertilized egg will mature in the womb of its mother until
birth.But the process of human fertilization is very complicated and
comprised of many steps and components necessary to achieve the ultimate
result of human life.


Fertilization is the complete process resulting in the fusion of haploid

gametes to form the diploid zygote. Simply put, the definition of human
fertilization is the union or joining of the egg and the sperm, resulting in a
fertilized egg, otherwise known as a zygote.
1.3.1.The gametes involved are Sperms and Egg Sperms

Sperm are small, asymmetrical and motile cells (Fig A). They have
three components:

1. Tail: Also referred to as the principal piece.

2. Mid piece: It is the proximal portion of the tail. It contains a sheath of

mitochondria, which produce the ATP necessary for the beating of the tail

3. Head: Head contains the haploid nucleus. Overlaying the head is a

membrane bound vesicle, the acrosome. The acrosome is a lysosomal-like
compartment and contains soluble hydrolases. Eggs

* Eggs are large (~100 µm), symmetrical and nonmotile cells (Fig B).

* Human eggs are arrested in metaphase of the second meiotic division and
complete meiosis only upon fertilization. Their surface of the egg is covered
by microvilli (Fig C).
* Eggs are surrounded by a zona pellucida, (Fig D) which is a glycoprotein
coat. The zona pellucida is the species specific barrier to fertilization.

1.4.There are four stages to fertilization

1. Preparation of the sperm

2. Sperm-Egg Binding
3. Sperm-Egg Fusion
4. Activation of the egg (of the zygote)
1.4.1.Stage I: Preparation of the Sperm

Ejaculated sperm are not ready to fertilize an egg when they enter the
vagina. In response to the dilution of semen in the vagina, they undergo
several changes.

The changes includes1.Increase in intracellular Ca++ levels.2.Activated

Sperm motility and 3.Loss of Sperm cell surface antigens and the sperm
more receptive to binding to the egg.

All these changes collectively known as capacitation.

1.4.2.Stage II: Sperm-Egg Binding

In humans the process of sperm-egg binding is not so simple. The

complicating factor is the thick zona pellucida, which keeps sperm from
binding close to the egg plasma membrane.

Binding of sperm to the zona pellucida is a receptor-ligand interaction

with a high degree of species specificity.

As a result of irreversible binding of the sperm to the egg, the zona

pellucida triggers the acrosome reaction.

The outer plasma membrane of the acrosome fuses at multiple sites

with the plasma membrane leading to leakage of acrosomal enzymes from
the sperm's head.

As the acrosome reaction progresses, the sperm passes through the

zona pellucida. By the time the sperm traverses the zona pellucida, the
entire anterior surface of its head, down to the inner acrosomal membrane,
is denuded.

1.4.3.Stage III: Sperm-Egg Fusion

Once a sperm penetrates the zona pellucida, it binds to and fuses with the
plasma membrane of the oocyte. Binding occurs at the posterior or post-
acrosomal region of the sperm head. This binding or fusion due to
attachment of sperm glycoprotein ie.,fertilins with the membrane proteins
of the egg.

Once the sperm fuses with the egg, the beating of the tail stops
immediately. The sperm instead,is drawn into the egg by elongation and
fusion of the egg’s microvilli. As a result, the sperm nucleus and other
organelles are incorporated into the egg cytoplasm. The sperm nucleus
undergoes a series of changesto form a male pronucleus. The male
pronucleus migrate to the center of the cell, where it fuses with the female
pronucleusand forms a diploid nucleus (Fig E).

1.4.4.Stage IV: Activation - The Egg’s Response

Prior to fertilization, the egg is in a quiescent state, arrested in

metaphase of the second meiotic division. Upon binding of a sperm, the egg
rapidly undergoes a number of metabolic and physical changes that
collectively are called egg activation.

Prominent effects include a rise in the intracellular concentration of

calcium, completion of the second meiotic division and the so-called
cortical reaction.

The cortical reaction refers to a massive exocytosis of cortical

granules seen shortly after sperm-oocyte fusion. Cortical granules contain
a mixture of enzymes, including several proteases, which diffuse into the
zona pellucida following exocytosis from the egg. These proteases alter the
structure of the zona pellucida, inducing what is known as the zona
reaction (Fig F). Components of cortical granules may also interact with the
oocyte plasma membrane.

The zona reaction refers to an alteration in the structure of the zona

pellucida includes its hardening and the destruction of sperm receptors.

Activation of the egg also includes the initiation of development of

the new zygote. Protein synthesis and other metabolic processes are
upregulated to provide for the developing embryo.

Fertilization is a cell-cell recognition process that occurs between two

distinct cells: a smallasymmetric and motile sperm cell and a large and
nonmotile egg. The stages of fertilization can be divided intofour processes:
1) sperm preparation, 2) sperm-egg recognition and binding, 3) sperm-egg
fusion and 4) fusionof sperm and egg pronuclei and activation of the
zygote. Finally, we will consider how fertilized eggsprevent additional
sperm from fusing (a condition known as polyspermy) and how the
fertilized egg is activatedto begin development.


Capacitation: The process by which the sperm becomes capable of

fertilizing an egg.
Acrosome Reaction: A regulated exocytotic event in which an apical vesicle
in the sperm head fuses with thesperm plasma membrane. The acrosome
reaction is triggered in response to egg factors.
Acrosin: A serine protease released during the acrosome reaction.

Cortical Reaction: A regulated exocytosis in which apically localized

vesicles (cortical granules) in the eggfuse with plasma membrane after

Zona Pellucida: A coat surrounding the egg that contains


Fertilin: An ADAM family protein on the sperm implicated in sperm-egg

membrane fusion. Contains a fusionpeptide resembling viral fusion
peptides and a disintegrin domain involved in recognition.

Pronuclei: The transitional male and female nuclei formed in the egg after
fertilization. They fuse toform the diploid zygote nucleus.
Polyspermy: The condition in which more than one sperm fertilizes an egg.
Polyspermy leads todefective development.

1.7. Frequently Asked Questions

a. Explain about the Sperm capaciation

b. How do you prevent the Polyspermy
c. Write the differences between egg and sperm

1.8. Check your progress

1. Sperm is capable of fertilizing the egg means ( )

a. Sperm Activation

b. Sperm fertilization

c. Sperm capciation

d. Sperm production

2. Membrane coat found surrounding the egg is ( )

a. Zona radiate

b. Corona radiate

c. Zona pellucida

d. Fertilizing membrane

1.9. References
1. https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-structure-sperm-cell-
2. https://pmgbiology.com/tag/egg/
3. https://kids.britannica.com/students/assembly/view/66050
4. http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/reprod/fert/zonarx
5. An introduction to Embryology 5thEdn by Balinsky