Exocytosis of cortical granules was observed in sea urchin eggs, either quick-frozen or chemically fixed after exposure to sperm. Fertilization produced a wave of exocytosis that began within 20 s and swept across the egg surface in the following 30 s. The front of this wave was marked by fusion of single granules at well-separated sites. Toward the rear of the wave, granule fusion became so abundant that the egg surface was left with confluent patches of granule membrane. The resulting redundancy of the egg surface was accomodated by elaboration of characteristic branching microvilli, and by an intense burst of coated vesicle formation at ~ 2 min after insemination. Freeze-fracture replicas of eggs fixed with glutaraldehyde and soaked in glycerol before freezing displayed forms of granule membrane interaction with the plasma membrane which looked like what other investigators have considered to be intermediates in exocytosis. These were small disks of membrane contact or membrane fusion, which often occurred in multiple sites on one granule and also between adjacent granules. However, such membrane interactions were never found in eggs that were quick-frozen without fixation, or in eggs fixed and frozen without exposure to glycerol. Glycerination of fixed material appeared to be the important variable; more concentrated glycerol produced a greater abundance of such 'intermediates'. Thus, these structures may be artifacts produced by dehydrating chemically fixed membranes, and may not be directly relevant to the mechanism by which membranes naturally fuse.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology