Members of the SNARE hypothesis are associated with cortical granule exocytosis in the sea urchin egg

Sean Conner, David Leaf, Gary Wessel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Cortical granule exocytosis is important for the block to polyspermy at fertilization in the eggs of most vertebrates and many invertebrates. Cortical granules are poised at the cell surface and exocytose in response to sperm stimulation. Following exocytosis, the cortical granule contents modify the extracellular environment of the egg, the major result of which is to block additional sperm binding. Here we show that proteins homologous to members of the SNARE hypothesis-a molecular model designed to explain the trafficking, docking, and exocytosis of vesicles in the secretory compartment-are present in eggs at the right time and place to be involved in the regulation of cortical granule exocytosis. Using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) screens we have found homologues of synaptobrevin/VAMP, syntaxin, synaptotagmin, and rab3. Antibodies generated to fusion proteins or to synthetic peptides encoded by the cloned cDNAs were used in an immunofluorescence assay to show that each of the cognate proteins are present in the cortex of the egg. A synaptobrevin/VAMP homologue appears to be specifically associated with the membrane of cortical granules before fertilization and, following cortical granule exocytosis, is incorporated into the plasma membrane of the zygote. A rab3 homologue is also associated with cortical granules specifically but, following fertilization, the protein reassociates with different, yet undefined, vesicles throughout the cytoplasm of the zygote. Homologues of synaptotagmin and syntaxin are also present at the egg cortex but, in contrast to rab3 and VAMP, appear to be associated with the plasma membrane. Following fertilization, syntaxin and tagmin remain associated with the plasma membrane and are more readily immunolabeled, presumably due to an increased accessibility of the antibodies to the target protein domains. We also show by immunoblotting experiments that the cognate proteins are of the sizes predicted for these homologues. These results suggest that at least some steps in the biology of cortical granules may be mediated by SNARE homologues, and this finding, along with the unique biology of cortical granules, should facilitate examination of specific events of the fertilization reaction and the mechanism of stimulus dependent exocytosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)106-118
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Reproduction and Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1997


  • Fertilization
  • Rab
  • Synaptobrevin
  • Synaptotagmin
  • Syntaxin
  • VAMP


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