We used a cell-free system to study membrane fusion during sperm exocytosis (acrosome reaction). Extracted bovine sperm plasma and outer acrosomal membranes were labeled with chlorophyll a or DCY, respectively. The occurrence of membrane fusion is indicated by the ability of the probes to diffuse from one membrane species to another which is revealed by resonance energy transfer between the two probes. We have previously shown using this system that the requirement of capacitation for sperm exocytosis is retained in cell-free membrane fusion, and that the pH and calcium dependence of the cell-free fusion mimics those of exocytosis in intact cells. In the present report we further characterize the fusion of sperm membranes which we observe in our assay. Phosphoproteins and phospholipases were found to be involved in the membrane fusion step of sperm exocytosis. Protein kinases, phosphatases, and Gi-like proteins, while involved in exocytosis in intact cells, are not involved specifically in the membrane fusion step of exocytosis. The role of membrane bound F-actin in regulating membrane fusion was also studied using fluorescently labeled phalloidin. The results show that cortical F-actin has two roles in regulating sperm exocytosis. One is to form a scaffolding to hold phospholipase C at the membrane. It also functions as a physical barrier to membrane fusion which is removed by the increases in intracellular calcium and pH which precede fusion.

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