Fertilization by more than one sperm causes polyploidy, a condition that is generally lethal to the embryo in the majority of animal species. To prevent this occurrence, eggs have developed a series of mechanisms that block polyspermy at the level of the plasma membrane or their extracellular coat. In this review, we first introduce the mammalian egg coat, the zona pellucida (ZP), and summarize what is currently known about its composition, structure, and biological functions. We then describe how this specialized extracellular matrix is modified by the contents of cortical granules (CG), secretory organelles that are exocytosed by the egg after gamete fusion. This process releases proteases, glycosidases, lectins and zinc onto the ZP, resulting in a series of changes in the properties of the egg coat that are collectively referred to as hardening. By drawing parallels with comparable modifications of the vitelline envelope of nonmammalian eggs, we discuss how CG-dependent modifications of the ZP are thought to contribute to the block to polyspermy. Moreover, we argue for the importance of obtaining more information on the architecture of the ZP, as well as systematically investigating the many facets of ZP hardening.
Keywords: block to polyspermy; egg coat; fertilization; hardening; zona pellucida.
© 2020 The Authors. Molecular Reproduction and Development published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.