A decapeptide (GFDLNGGGVG) isolated from the solubilized jelly layer of the sea urchin Hemicentrotus pulcherrimus stimulates the respiration and motility of H. pulcherrimus spermatozoa and, in addition, produces a number of biological effects on H. pulcherrimus spermatozoa including increases in cAMP and cGMP levels, activation of a Na+/H+ exchange system, and increases in intracellular pH (pHi) and [Ca2+] ([Ca2+]i). The peptide activates the metabolism of endogenous phosphatidylcholine and promotes the acrosome reaction as a specific co-factor of a major acrosome reaction-inducing substance, fucose sulfate glycoconjugate. The peptide also induces an electrophoretic mobility change in the guanylate cyclase of the sperm plasma membrane with concomitant dephosphorylation and inactivation of the enzyme. Seventy-four peptides producing similar biological effects, named sperm-activating peptide (SAP), have since been purified from the solubilized jelly layer of seventeen species of sea urchins distributed over five taxonomic orders. These peptides show essentially the same biological effects on sea urchin spermatozoa although their activity and structures are specific at the ordinal level. Equilibrium binding experiments using a radioiodinated SAP-I analogue [GGGY(125I)GFDLNGGGVG] to H. pulcherrimus spermatozoa suggests the presence of two classes of receptors (high affinity and low affinity) specific for SAP-I binding. Based on the Kd values and EC50's for SAP-I's biological activity, we presume that the high affinity receptor is associated with respiration-stimulating activity and elevations in pHi, while the low affinity receptor is coupled to elevations in cGMP and [Ca2+]i. The radioiodinated SAP-I analogue crosslinks to a 71 kDa protein which contains a single membrane-spanning domain at almost near C-terminus. A SAP-I precursor which is synthesized in the accessory cells contains five SAP-I and seven SAP-I-like decapeptides, each separated by a single lysine residue.