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This chapter intends to summarise the importance of sperm- and oocyte-derived factors in the processes of sperm-oocyte binding and oocyte activation. First, we describe the initial interaction between sperm and the zona pellucida, with particular regard to acrosome exocytosis. We then describe how sperm and oocyte membranes fuse, with special reference to the discovery of the sperm protein IZUMO1 and its interaction with the oocyte membrane receptor JUNO. We then focus specifically upon oocyte activation, the fundamental process by which the oocyte is alleviated from metaphase II arrest by a sperm-soluble factor. The identity of this sperm factor has been the source of much debate recently, although mounting evidence, from several different laboratories, provides strong support for phospholipase C ζ (PLCζ), a sperm-specific phospholipase. Herein, we discuss the evidence in support of PLCζ and evaluate the potential role of other candidate proteins, such as post-acrosomal WW-binding domain protein (PAWP/WBP2NL). Since the cascade of downstream events triggered by the sperm-borne oocyte activation factor heavily relies upon specialised cellular machinery within the oocyte, we also discuss the critical role of oocyte-borne factors, such as the inositol trisphosphate receptor (IP3R), protein kinase C (PKC), store-operated calcium entry (SOCE) and calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII), during the process of oocyte activation. In order to place the implications of these various factors and processes into a clinical context, we proceed to describe their potential association with oocyte activation failure and discuss how clinical techniques such as the in vitro maturation of oocytes may affect oocyte activation ability. Finally, we contemplate the role of artificial oocyte activating agents in the clinical rescue of oocyte activation deficiency and discuss options for more endogenous alternatives.

Original publication





Publication Date





213 - 239


Ca2+ homeostasis, Fertilisation, Oocyte activation, PLCζ, Sperm–oocyte binding, Zona pellucida, Animals, Female, Fertilization, Humans, Male, Oocytes, Sperm-Ovum Interactions, Spermatozoa