The acrosome reaction is a crucial step during gamete interaction in all species, including man. It allows spermatozoa to penetrate the zona pellucida and fuse with the oocyte membrane. Spermatozoa unable to undergo the acrosome reaction will not fertilize intact oocytes. This article concentrates on the characteristics and regulatory mechanisms of the acrosome reaction in human spermatozoa. During recent years, various entities found in the vicinity of the ovulated oocyte have been identified as stimulators of the acrosome reaction, of which zona protein is considered the prime physiological inducer in vivo. The steroid hormone progesterone has been shown to evoke critical responses in sperm cells leading to the acrosome reaction. Calcium has also been shown to play a central role during the acrosome reaction. Calcium flux is induced specifically by progesterone in capacitated and uncapacitated sperm cells, whereas only capacitated spermatozoa are able to subsequently complete the acrosome reaction. Progesterone as well as zona protein has been shown to evoke crucial responses within human spermatozoa, shedding light on the cascade of intracellular signalling events leading to the completion of the acrosome reaction. Furthermore, chemical agents which bring about the reaction in vitro, such as the ionophores ionomycin or A23187, have been used to shed light on its regulatory mechanisms. A number of molecules have been postulated to regulate the acrosome reaction in mammals, for example a galactosyl-transferase and a sperm protein tyrosine kinase. In addition, a novel protein, termed SAA-1, that was first detected on human spermatozoa is discussed with respect to its potential role as a regulatory protein closely involved in the initiation of the acrosome reaction.
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