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Development 129 (15): 3533-3544

PLC{zeta}: a sperm-specific trigger of Ca2+ oscillations in eggs and embryo development

Christopher M. Saunders1, Mark G. Larman2, John Parrington3, Llewellyn J. Cox1, Jillian Royse1, Lynda M. Blayney1, Karl Swann2, and F. Anthony Lai1,*

1 Cell Signalling Laboratory, Wales Heart Research Institute, University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff CF14 4XN, UK
2 Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College, London WC1E 6BT, UK
3 Department of Physiology, University College, London WC1E 6BT, UK

*Author for correspondence (e-mail: lait{at}

Accepted for publication 1 May 2002.

Abstract: Upon fertilisation by sperm, mammalian eggs are activated by a series of intracellular Ca2+ oscillations that are essential for embryo development. The mechanism by which sperm induces this complex signalling phenomenon is unknown. One proposal is that the sperm introduces an exclusive cytosolic factor into the egg that elicits serial Ca2+ release. The ‘sperm factor’ hypothesis has not been ratified because a sperm-specific protein that generates repetitive Ca2+ transients and egg activation has not been found. We identify a novel, sperm-specific phospholipase C, PLC{zeta}, that triggers Ca2+ oscillations in mouse eggs indistinguishable from those at fertilisation. PLC{zeta} removal from sperm extracts abolishes Ca2+ release in eggs. Moreover, the PLC{zeta} content of a single sperm was sufficient to produce Ca2+ oscillations as well as normal embryo development to blastocyst. Our results are consistent with sperm PLC{zeta} as the molecular trigger for development of a fertilised egg into an embryo.

Key Words: Fertilisation • Sperm factor • Phospholipase C • Ca2+ oscillations • Egg activation • Mouse

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