It has long been hypothesized that in fishes the contents of cortical granules are involved in the hardening of egg envelope following fertilization. We previously purified the egg envelope hardening initiation factor from the exudates released from activated medaka (Oryzias latipes) eggs and tentatively termed this protein alveolin. Alveolin is a member of the astacin metalloprotease family and was proposed to be a protease which hydrolyzes ZPB at one restricted position to allow starting cross-linking with ZPC. Here, we investigated the complete pathway from biosynthesis and accumulation to secretion of alveolin. A single alveolin transcript was detected only in ovarian preparations, confirming the specific expression of alveolin in the ovary. In situ hybridization indicated that the alveolin mRNA is already expressed in the very early previtellogenic oocytes. However, immunocytochemical studies revealed that the appearance of alveolin protein was delayed until the beginning of the vitellogenic stage. The cortical granules isolated from unfertilized eggs contained a high molecular weight form of glycosylated alveolin with a 50. kDa relative molecular mass. Hypotonic treatment burst isolated granules in vitro and transformed alveolin to a 21.5. kDa form, which is the same size as that of natural alveolin released from eggs upon fertilization. This transformation was inhibited in the presence of leupeptin and 4-(2-aminoethyl) benzenesulfonyl fluoride hydrochloride (AEBSF), suggesting that a serine protease is involved in alveolin activation upon fertilization. Furthermore, the phylogenetic relationship of alveolin with other vertebrate astacin family members was analyzed. The result shows that alveolin and its teleostean homologs make a new group which is separate from either the hatching enzyme, meprin and BMP1/tolloid groups.
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