In creatures with external fertilization, e.g., metazoa, it is well established that there is precontact sperm-egg communication in the form of chemotaxis. An intriguing question is whether also in mammals, where fertilization is internal and the need for precontact sperm-egg communication is not self-evident, such a process occurs and what its physiological significance may be. Here we review the evidence related to such a process in mammals, evidence which suggests that sperm attraction to the ovulated egg may indeed occur. On the basis of the available data we propose a hypothesis, according to which a sperm population is heterogeneous with respect to its physiological state; some spermatozoa are at a physiological state ready for fertilizing an egg, while others are premature or overmature. According to the hypothesis this is a dynamic state; the population of fertilizing spermatozoa gradually loses its potency and, at the same time, other spermatozoa mature and acquire fertilizing ability. After ovulation, only the fertilizing spermatozoa are attracted to the egg, while the rest are either repelled or inhibited and thus prevented from reaching the egg. The potential significance of sperm-egg communication is discussed.
- Copyright © 1992 the American Physiological Society