Mammalian fertilization depends upon successful binding and fusion between the membranes of the spermatozoon and the oocyte. These processes are thought to be mediated by a series of protein-protein interactions in which sperm antigens known as fertilins are thought to play a key role. Using a recently developed fluorescence technique, the interactions of the oligopeptide sequence corresponding to the fusogenic domain of mouse fertilin-α (MFαP) and phospholipid vesicles have been investigated. Following stopped-flow mixing, MFαP bound rapidly to phospholipid membranes in a co-operative manner with a Hill coefficient of 2.4 and binding rate constants in excess of 1000 s-1. The co-operative nature of the binding process is suggested to represent evidence of a structural mechanism to prevent egg fertilization by immature spermatozoa. The subsequent membrane insertion was found to take place over a longer time period (with rate constants of up to 6.3 s-1), and was linear with respect to peptide concentration. Comparison of these processes with similar time-resolved circular dichroism measurements revealed that changes in peptide secondary structure were very rapid. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy measurements confirmed changes in the secondary structure of MFαP during interaction with PC phospholipid membranes, indicating that the peptide is mainly present in a β-structure with a small proportion of α-helix. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that fertilin-α is the fusogenic species with an important role in fertilization.
- Fusion peptide