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Karl Swann

PLCzeta(ζ) initiates Ca2+ oscillations and egg activation at fertilization in mammals, but studies in mouse eggs fertilized by PLCζ knockout (KO) sperm imply that there is another slow acting factor causing Ca2+ release. Here, I propose a hypothesis for how this second sperm factor might cause Ca2+ oscillations in mouse eggs.

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Jessica R Sanders and Karl Swann

In mammals, the sperm activates the development of the egg by triggering a series of oscillations in the cytosolic-free Ca2+ concentration (Ca2+ i). The sperm triggers these cytosolic Ca2+i oscillations after sperm–egg membrane fusion, as well as after intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). These Ca2+ i oscillations are triggered by a protein located inside the sperm. The identity of the sperm protein has been debated over many years, but all the repeatable data now suggest that it is phospholipase Czeta (PLCζ). The main downstream target of Ca2+ i oscillations is calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CAMKII (CAMK2A)), which phosphorylates EMI2 and WEE1B to inactivate the M-phase promoting factor protein kinase activity (MPF) and this ultimately triggers meiotic resumption. A later decline in the activity of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) then leads to the completion of activation which is marked by the formation of pronuclei and entry into interphase of the first cell cycle. The early cytosolic Ca2+ increases also trigger exocytosis via a mechanism that does not involve CAMKII. We discuss some recent developments in our understanding of these triggers for egg activation within the framework of cytosolic Ca2+ signaling.

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Anna Ajduk, Maria A Ciemerych, Victoria Nixon, Karl Swann, and Marek Maleszewski

Fertilization affects levels of cyclin B1 and M-phase promoting factor (MPF) activity in maturing and metaphase II mouse oocytes in two distinct ways. In metaphase II oocytes, it leads to a Ca2 +-dependent, continuous degradation of cyclin B1 and inactivation of cyclin dependent kinase (CDC2A)–cyclin B1 complex (MPF). In this paper, we show that neither mono- nor polyspermic fertilization of prometaphase I and metaphase I oocytes triggered degradation of cyclin B1. However, polyspermic fertilization of prometaphase I oocytes led to a transient decrease in MPF activity that lasted for 2 h. The inactivation of MPF in polyspermic prometaphase I oocytes did not depend on the fertilization-induced increase in the cytoplasmic concentration of free Ca2 + ions, but was caused, at least in part, by dephosphorylation of CDC2A at threonine 161 (Thr161). We found that polyspermic fertilization did not affect glutathione levels in prometaphase I oocytes, and concluded that the decrease in MPF activity and dephosphorylation of CDC2A at Thr161 in polyspermic prometaphase I oocytes were not caused by a change in the redox status of the cell induced by an introduction of excessive amount of sperm protamines. Instead, we propose that inactivation of MPF activity in polyspermic maturing oocytes is caused by a change in nucleo-cytoplasmic ratio that leads to a ‘titration’ of kinases and phosphatases responsible for keeping MPF in an active state. This idea is supported by the finding that oocytes fused with thymocytes rather than spermatozoa also showed a transient decrease in MPF activity.

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Angelos Thanassoulas, Karl Swann, F Anthony Lai, and Michail Nomikos

In 2002, sperm-specific phospholipase C zeta1 (PLCZ1) was discovered and through these 20 years, it has been established as the predominant sperm oocyte-activating factor. PLCZ1 cRNA expression or direct protein microinjection into mammalian oocytes triggers calcium (Ca2+) oscillations indistinguishable from those observed at fertilization. The imperative role of PLCZ1 in oocyte activation is revealed by the vast number of human mutations throughout the PLCZ1 gene that have been identified and directly linked with certain forms of male infertility due to oocyte activation deficiency. PLCZ1 is the smallest PLC in size, comprising four N-terminal EF-hand domains, followed by X and Y catalytic domains, which are separated by the XY-linker, and ending with a C-terminal C2 domain. The EF hands are responsible for the high Ca2+ sensitivity of PLCZ1. The X and Y catalytic domains are responsible for the catalysis of the phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate [PI(4,5)P2] substrate to produce the Ca2+-mobilising messenger, inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3), while the XY-linker plays multiple roles in the unique mode of PLCZ1 action. Finally, the C2 domain has been proposed to facilitate the anchoring of PLCZ1 to intracellular vesicles through its direct interactions with specific phosphoinositides. This review discusses recent advances in the structure and function relationship of PLCZ1 and the potential binding partners of this important sperm-specific protein in the sperm and oocyte. The unravelling of all the remaining hidden secrets of sperm PLCZ1 should help us to understand the precise mechanism of fertilization, as well as enabling the diagnosis and treatment of currently unknown forms of PLCZ1 -linked human infertility.

Open access

Yisu Wang, Iestyn Pope, Henry Brennan-Craddock, Emma Poole, Wolfgang Langbein, Paola Borri, and Karl Swann

Exposure of mouse oocytes to saturated fatty acids (FAs) such as palmitic acid (PA) has been shown to increase lipid content and cause an endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress response and changes in the mitochondrial redox state. PA can also disrupt Ca2+ stores in other cell types. The links between these intracellular changes, or whether they are prevented by mono-unsaturated FAs such as oleic acid (OA), is unclear. Here, we have investigated the effects of FAs on mouse oocytes, that are maturated in vitro, using coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering and two-photon fluorescence microscopy. When oocytes were matured in the presence of PA, there were changes in the aggregation pattern and size of lipid droplets that were mitigated by co-incubation in OA. Maturation in PA alone also caused a distinctive disruption of the ER structure. This effect was prevented by incubation of OA with PA. In contrast, maturation of mouse oocytes in medium containing PA was not associated with any significant change in the redox state of mitochondria or the Ca2+ content of intracellular stores. These data suggest that a primary effect of saturated FAs such as PA on oocytes is to disrupt the structure of the ER and this is not due to an effect on the mitochondria or Ca2+ stores.