Sulfated polysaccharides from egg jelly are the molecules responsible for inducing the sperm acrosome reaction in sea urchins. This is an obligatory event for sperm binding to, and fusion with, the egg. The sulfated polysaccharides from sea urchins have simple, well defined repeating structures, and each species represents a particular pattern of sulfate substitution. Here, we examined the egg jellies of the sea urchin sibling species The egg jellies of these two species of sea urchins induce the acrosome reaction in homologous (but not heterologous) sperm. Therefore, the fine structure of the sulfated ␣-fucans from the egg jellies of S. pallidus and S. droebachiensis, which differ in their sulfation patterns and in the position of their glycosidic linkages, ensures species specificity of the sperm acrosome reaction and prevents interspecies crosses. In addition, our observations allow a clear appreciation of the common structural features among the sulfated polysaccharides from sea urchin egg jelly and help to identify structures that confer finer species specificity of recognition in the acrosome reaction.
Spawning marine invertebrates are excellent models for studying fertilization and reproductive isolating mechanisms. To identify variation in the major steps in sea urchin gamete recognition, we studied sperm activation in three closely related sympatric Strongylocentrotus species. Sperm undergo acrosomal exocytosis upon contact with sulfated polysaccharides in the egg-jelly coat. This acrosome reaction exposes the protein bindin and is therefore a precondition for sperm binding to the egg. We found that sulfated carbohydrates from egg jelly induce the acrosome reaction species specifically in S. droebachiensis and S. pallidus. There appear to be no other significant barriers to interspecific fertilization between these two species. Other species pairs in the same genus acrosome react nonspecifically to egg jelly but exhibit species-specific sperm binding. We thus show that different cell-cell communication systems mediate mate recognition among very closely related species. By comparing sperm reactions to egg-jelly compounds from different species and genera, we identify the major structural feature of the polysaccharides required for the specific recognition by sperm: the position of the glycosidic bond of the sulfated alpha-L-fucans. We present here one of the few examples of highly specific pure-carbohydrate signal transduction. In this system, a structural change in a polysaccharide has far-reaching ecological and evolutionary consequences.
Sulfated polysaccharides from the egg jelly of sea urchins act as species-specific inducers of the sperm acrosome reaction, which is a rare molecular mechanism of carbohydrate-induced signal-transduction event in animal cells. The sea urchin polysaccharides differ in monosaccharide composition (L-fucose or L-galactose), glycosylation, and sulfation sites, but they are always in the ␣-anomeric configuration. Herein, structural analysis of the polysaccharide from the sea urchin Glyptocidaris crenularis surprisingly revealed a unique sulfated ␤-D-galactan composed by (3-␤-D-Galp-2(OSO 3 )-133-␤-D-Galp-1) n repeating units. Subsequently, we used the G. crenularis galactan to compare different 2-sulfated polysaccharides as inducers of the acrosome reaction using homologous and heterologous sperm. We also tested the effect of chemically over-sulfated galactans. Intriguingly, the anomeric configuration of the glycosidic linkage rather than the monosaccharide composition (galactose or fucose) is the preferential structural requirement for the effect of these polysaccharides on sea urchin fertilization. Nuclear magnetic resonance and molecular dynamics indicate that sulfated ␣-galactan or ␣-fucan have less dynamic structural behavior, exhibiting fewer conformational populations, with an almost exclusive conformational state with glycosidic dihedral angles ⌽/⌿ ؍ ؊102°/131°. The preponderant conformer observed in the sulfated ␣-galactan or ␣-fucan is not observed among populations in the ␤-form despite its more flexible structure in solution. Possibly, a proper spatial arrangement is required for interaction of the sea urchin-sulfated polysaccharides with the specific sperm receptor.The evolution of barriers to inter-specific hybridization is a crucial step in the fertilization of free-spawning marine invertebrates. In sea urchins the molecular recognition between sperm and egg ensures species recognition. The jelly coat surrounding sea urchin eggs is not a simple accessory structure; it is considerably complex on a molecular level and intimately involved in gamete recognition. It contains sulfated polysaccharides, sialoglycans, and peptides.Structural changes in the sulfated polysaccharide from the egg jelly of sea urchins modulate cell-cell recognition and species specificity leading to exocytosis of the acrosomal vesicle, the acrosome reaction. This is a crucial event for the recognition between male and female gametes, leading to the fertilization success, and is also what prevents intercrosses. The sulfated polysaccharide from the egg jelly recognizes its specific receptor present in the sperm. Apart from the sialoglycans that act in synergy with the sulfated polysaccharides, other components of the egg jelly do not possess acrosome reaction-inducing activity (1). The sulfated polysaccharide-mediated mechanism of sperm-egg recognition co-exists with that of bindin and its receptor in the egg (2-4).The sulfated polysaccharides from sea urchin show speciesspecific structures composed of repetitive units (mono-, tri-, ...
The egg jellies of sea urchins contain sulfated polysaccharides with unusual structures, composed of linear chains of l-fucose or l-galactose with well-defined repetitive units. The specific pattern of sulfation and the position of the glycosidic bond vary among sulfated polysaccharides from different species. These polysaccharides show species specificity in inducing the acrosome reaction, which is a critical event for fertilization. Females of the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus spawn eggs containing a sulfated fucan with the repetitive sequence [3-alpha-L-Fucp-2(OSO(3))-1 --> 3-alpha-L-Fucp-4(OSO(3))-1 --> 3-alpha-L-Fucp-2,4(OSO(3))-1 --> 3-alpha-L-Fucp-2(OSO(3))-1](n). We now observe that, close to winter, a period of decreased fertility for the sea urchin, the females synthesize a distinct sulfated fucan with a simple structure, composed of 4-sulfated, 3-linked alpha-fucose residues. This sulfated fucan is inactive when tested in vitro for the acrosome reaction using homologous sperm. The amount of egg jellies spawned by females (and their constituent sulfated polysaccharides) varied greatly throughout the year. Apparently, there is a correlation between the temperature of the sea water and the expression of the 4-sulfated, 3-linked sulfated fucan. Overall, we described the occurrence of two isotypes of sulfated fucan in the egg jelly of the sea urchin L. variegatus, which differ in their biological activity and may be involved in the periodicity of the reproductive cycle of the invertebrate.
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