Fertilization in Starfish and Sea Urchin: Roles of Actin
Marine animals relying on “external fertilization” provide advantageous opportunities to study the mechanisms of gamete activation and fusion, as well as the subsequent embryonic development. Owing to the large number of eggs that are easily available and handled, starfish and sea urchins have been chosen as favorable animal models in this line of research for over 150 years. Indeed, much of our knowledge on fertilization came from studies in the echinoderms. Fertilization involves mutual stimulation between eggs and sperm, which leads to morphological, biochemical, and physiological changes on both sides to ensure successful gamete fusion. In this chapter, we review the roles of actin in the fertilization of starfish and sea urchin eggs. As fertilization is essentially an event that takes place on the egg surface, it has been predicted that suboolemmal actin filaments would make significant contributions to sperm entry. A growing body of evidence from starfish and sea urchin eggs suggests that the prompt reorganization of the actin pools around the time of fertilization plays crucial regulatory roles not only in guiding sperm entry but also in modulating intracellular Ca2+ signaling and egg activation.
The authors are grateful to D. Caramiello for maintenance of A. aranciacus and P. lividus and to R. Graziano, F. Iamunno, and G. Lanzotti at the AMOBIO Unit of the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn who prepared samples for scanning electron microscopy. We also acknowledge G. Gragnaniello for the preparation of the figures and C. Caccavale for her graphic design of Fig 3.1.
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