Xenopus laevis fertilisation: Analysis of sperm motility in egg jelly using video light microscopy

Donnie Reinhart, James Ridgway, Douglas E. Chandler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Xenopus laevis eggs are surrounded by an extracellular matrix consisting of a vitelline envelope, and three jelly layers, J1, J2, and J3 (from egg surface outward). The jelly layers vary in thickness (about 150,15 and 200 μm for J1, J2 and J3 respectively) but all are translucent allowing observation of sperm penetration. Video microscopy demonstrated that sperm are able to penetrate and traverse J3 at velocities approaching 30 μm/s. Sperm swim through jelly in a corkscrew-like manner with their rotational and forward velocities being tightly coupled at about 30°/μm forward travel. They are propelled by whip-like power strokes involving hairpin bends in the flagellum that are generated every 180° of rotation and which are propagated from base to tip. The overall trajectories of individual sperm are quite variable. Many sperm head directly for J2 but some do not, these swimming circumferentially, or even away from the egg surface. Most sperm (over 97%) that enter the jelly do not get to the egg surface but are stopped at a variety of positions within J3 or at the outer surface of J2. Efficient sperm penetration and passage through the jelly layers requires a low electrolyte concentration in the surrounding medium, and is inhibited by the lectin wheat germ agglutin (WGA) in a dose-dependent manner. WGA does not block sperm penetration of J3 but does block further progression towards the egg surface. This observation suggests that sperm motility within the jelly is dependent on the carbohydrate moieties of the large glycoconjugates present, and that their alteration by WGA binding accounts for the inability of sperm to reach the egg surface and fertilise the egg.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-182
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1998


  • Egg jelly
  • Fertilisation
  • Lectins
  • Sperm motility
  • Video microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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