Recently, it has been demonstrated that mouse sperm contain a protein with properties similar to the inhibitory guanine nucleotide-binding regulatory protein, Gi (Kopf, G. S., Woolkalis, M. J., and Gerton, G. L. 1986. J. Biol. Chem. 261, 7327-7331). Since sperm-zona pellucida interaction represents a specialized form of intercellular communication and signal transduction we examined the role of the mouse sperm Gi-like protein in the zona pellucida-induced acrosome reaction using mechanically isolated, structurally intact zonae pellucidae. Sperm capacitated for 90 min in the presence of increasing concentrations of islet-activating protein (IAP) bind to the zona pellucida to a similar extent as control sperm incubated in the absence of this toxin. The zona pellucida-induced acrosome reaction, however, is inhibited in a concentration dependent manner by IAP, with half-maximal effects at 0.1-1.0 ng/ml IAP. IAP does not affect the ability of the sperm to become capacitated, but inhibits the cells from progressing into an intermediate stage prior to the completion of the acrosome reaction. When sperm are capacitated in the presence of 100 microM guanosine-5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) for 60 min prior to the addition of IAP during the final 30 min, the IAP-induced inhibition of the zona pellucida-induced acrosome reaction is abolished; capacitation in the presence of 100 microM guanosine-5'-O-(2-thiodiphosphate) does not abolish the inhibitory effects of IAP. The target of the IAP effect on intact sperm appears to be at the level of the Gi-like protein since IAP-catalyzed 32P-ADP-ribosylation of the Mr = 41,000 substrate in detergent extracts of sperm is reduced when intact sperm are preincubated with IAP during capacitation. These data suggest that the mouse sperm Gi-like protein plays an intermediary role in the zona pellucida-induced acrosome reaction.