Human Sperm Binding Is Mediated by the Sialyl-Lewisx Oligosaccharide on the Zona Pellucida

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Science  18 Aug 2011:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1207438


Human fertilization begins when spermatozoa bind to the extracellular matrix coating of the oocyte, known as the zona pellucida (ZP). One spermatozoan then penetrates this matrix and fuses with the egg cell, generating a zygote. Although carbohydrate sequences on the ZP have been implicated in sperm binding, the nature of the ligand was unknown. Here, ultrasensitive mass spectrometric analyses revealed that the sialyl-Lewisx sequence (NeuAcα2-3Galβ1-4(Fucα1-3)GlcNAc), a well-known selectin ligand, is the most abundant terminal sequence on the N- and O-glycans of human ZP. Sperm-ZP binding was largely inhibited by glycoconjugates terminated with sialyl-Lewisx sequences or by antibodies directed against this sequence. Thus, the sialyl-Lewisx sequence represents the major carbohydrate ligand for human sperm-egg binding.