The heads of mouse spermatozoa obtained 5 min after release from the excised caudae epididymides showed a characteristic fluorescence pattern in the presence of the fluorophore chlortetracycline (CTC). There was uniform fluorescence over the entire head with about half the sperm population showing a brighter line of fluorescence across the equatorial segment; this fluorescence pattern was designated "F". After 90-min incubation in culture medium (CM) containing 2% (w/v) bovine serum albumin, most of the sperm heads showed a dark band of nonfluorescence over the equatorial and postequatorial segment, while the anterior portion of the head showed bright fluorescence. This fluorescence pattern was designated "B." The time course for the disappearance of pattern F matched the time course of the appearance of pattern B, with a half-time of 30 min. The transformation was complete in 90 min. At longer times of incubation in CM, the percentage of spermatozoa showing pattern B declined; fluorescence over the entire head was lost, characteristic of the pattern for acrosome-reacted sperm (P. M. Saling and B. T. Storey (1979). J. Cell Biol. 83, 544-555). Mouse sperm showing pattern B were able to undergo the acrosome reaction, either spontaneously or by induction with acid-solubilized zonae pellucidae from mouse eggs (H.M. Florman and B. T. Storey (1982). Dev. Biol. 91, 121-130). The latter reaction was blocked by its specific inhibitor 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate (QNB). Mouse sperm showing pattern F could not be induced to undergo the acrosome reaction by exposure to solubilized zonae. This implies that the change from fluorescence pattern F to fluorescence pattern B corresponds with changes in the sperm which make them susceptible to undergo the acrosome reaction. This change occurs during the time interval previously determined to be needed for capacitation of mouse sperm in vitro in CM (M. Inoue and D. P. Wolf (1975). Biol. Reprod. 13, 340-346). These results imply that spermatozoa showing CTC fluorescence pattern B can be considered to be capacitated and that a functional definition for capacitation is the acquired ability to undergo the acrosome reaction rapidly when treated with acid-solubilized zonae pellucidae. The CTC fluorescence assay provides for the first time a means to monitor the time course of epididymal mouse sperm capacitation in vitro.