All vertebrate eggs are surrounded by an extracellular coat that supports growth of oocytes, protects oocytes, eggs, and early embryos, and participates in the process of fertilization. In mammals (platypus to human beings) the coat is called a zona pellucida (ZP) and in non-mammals (molluscs to birds), a vitelline envelope (VE). The ZP and VE are composed of just a few proteins that are related to one another and possess a common motif, called the zona pellucida domain (ZPD). The ZPD arose more than ~600 million years ago, consists of ~260 amino acids, and has 8 conserved Cys residues that participate in 4 intramolecular disulfides. It is likely that egg-coat proteins are derived from a common ancestral gene. This gene duplicated several times during evolution and gave rise to 3-4 genes in fish, 5 genes in amphibians, 6 genes in birds, and 3-4 genes in mammals. Some highly divergent sequences, N- and C-terminal to the ZPD, have been identified in egg-coat proteins and some of these sequences may be under positive Darwinian selection that drives evolution of the proteins. These and other aspects of egg-coat proteins, including their structure and synthesis, are addressed in this review.
View Full Article