• Antisperm antibodies;
  • sperm alloantigens;
  • immune infertility;
  • spermatogenesis;
  • acrosome;
  • fertilization

ABSTRACT: The equatorial segment of the sperm head is known to play a role in fertilization; however, the specific sperm molecules contributing to the integrity of the equatorial segment and in binding and fusion at the oolemma remain incomplete. Moreover, identification of molecular mediators of fertilization that are also immunogenic in humans is predicted to advance both the diagnosis and treatment of immune infertility. We previously reported the cloning of Equatorial Segment Protein (ESP), a protein localized to the equatorial segment of ejaculated human sperm. ESP is a biomarker for a subcompartment of the acrosomal matrix that can be traced through all stages of acrosome biogenesis (Wolkowicz et al, 2003). In the present study, ESP immunoreacted on Western blots with 4 (27%) of 15 antisperm antibody (ASA)–positive serum samples from infertile male patients and 2 (40%) of 5 ASA-positive female sera. Immunofluorescent studies revealed ESP in the equatorial segment of 89% of acrosome-reacted sperm. ESP persisted as a defined equatorial segment band on 100% of sperm tightly bound to the oolemma of hamster eggs. Antisera to recombinant human ESP inhibited both oolemmal binding and fusion of human sperm in the hamster egg penetration assay. The results indicate that ESP is a human alloantigen involved in sperm-egg binding and fusion. Defined recombinant sperm immunogens, such as ESP, may offer opportunities for differential diagnosis of immune infertility.