• ascidian;
  • cell adhesion;
  • fertilization;
  • gamete-interaction

In the initial stage of ascidian fertilization sequential sperm–egg coat interactions assure successful species-specific fertilization. Sperm recognize, bind to, and then penetrate the egg investment that consists of follicle cells (FC) and an acellular vitelline coat (VC). To identify plasma proteins that recognize the egg coat, a membrane fraction was prepared from Phallusia mammillata sperm using nitrogen cavitation followed by three centrifugation steps. The purity of the membrane fractions was assessed by transmission electron microscopy and marker enzymes. Comparison of the electrophoretic pattern of sperm extracellular membrane domains labeled by radio-iodination or biotinylation and recorded by autoradiography or enhanced chemiluminescence, respectively, showed the non-radioactive procedure to be a convenient and efficient method. Isolated sperm membrane components were found to inhibit fertilization in a concentration-dependent manner and to bind mainly to the FC. Eggs were used as an affinity matrix to determine which of the solubilized sperm membrane proteins possess egg-binding activity. Three biotinylated proteins (66kDa, 120kDa and 140kDa) were found to bind to the VC. Assays probing heterospecific binding to Ascidia mentula eggs revealed that the 120kDa protein possesses species-specific binding activity. Thus, the current data suggest the 120 kDa sperm membrane protein as a candidate adhesion molecule with a possible role in gamete binding and species-specific recognition in P. mammillata.