As the result of a combined biochemical and electron microscopic investigation, hitherto unrecognized structural features of the mouse egg extracellular coat, or zona pellucida, have been revealed. Specimens were prepared for electron microscopy by spraying individually isolated zonae pellucidae onto a substrate and were observed by both rotary shadowing and negative staining techniques. Results of these experiments suggest that the three zona pellucida glycoproteins, ZP1 (200,000 Mr), ZP2 (120,000 Mr) and ZP3 (83,000 Mr), are organized into long filaments. Negatively stained zona pellucida filaments resemble "beads-on-a-string", with each bead (9.5 nm in diameter) located every 17 nm or so (center-to-center distance) along the axis of the filament. The filaments, in turn, appear to be interconnected by one of the three zona pellucida glycoproteins, ZP1, giving rise to a three-dimensional matrix. Proteolysis of ZP1 by chymotrypsin or reduction of intermolecular disulfides of ZP1 by dithiothreitol results in both solubilization of zonae pellucidae and disruption of interconnections between individual zona pellucida filaments. These observations suggest that the zona pellucida, which plays important roles both during and after fertilization of mammalian eggs, is a highly organized extracellular coat in which glycoproteins are assembled into filaments possessing a recognizable structural repeat.