Carbohydrates and fertilization in animals

David J. Miller, Roy L. Ax

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A frequently used mechanism for sperm–egg recognition in many species involves complementary protein–carbohydrate interaction. The usual paradigm includes complex glycoconjugates in reproductive tract fluids or on the eggs which are recognized by carbohydrate‐binding proteins on the sperm surface. Various glycocojugates are utilized in the steps of sperm capacitation, sperm binding to the egg extracellular matrix and vitelline membrane and induction of the acrosome reaction. Several types of complex glycoconjugates are involved in these processes, including proteoglycans, lactosaminoglycans, sulfated fucose‐containing glycoconjugates, and glycoproteins. There appear to be some structural similarities between active glycoconjugates; they are large in molecular weight and complex, and they are often sulfated, fucosylated, and attached to a protein through serine or threonine residues. In some species, the protein core of the glycoconjugates also participates in the interaction by limiting the binding of carbohydrates to sperm only of the relevant species, likely by providing the proper steric arrangement for the interaction. In other cases the protein core seems to serve more as a crosslinker of the carbohydrate moieties. This review discusses the types of glycoconjugates implicated in fertilization and the complementary lectin‐like proteins found on sperm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-198
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular reproduction and development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • Acrosome reaction
  • Capacitation
  • Eggs
  • Fertilization
  • Glycoconjugates
  • Glycoproteins
  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Sperm
  • Zona pellucida

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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