Previous studies have shown that the Xenopus laevis egg envelope exists in three forms with differing ultrastructural, macromolecular, and sperm penetrability properties. The coelomic envelope (CE) is derived from eggs released from the ovary into the body cavity of the female, the vitelline envelope (VE) from eggs which have passed through the oviduct, and the fertilization envelope (FE) from fertilized eggs. In the present study, the physicochemical characteristics of these three envelope types were differentiated. Investigation of envelope solubility, deformability, sulfhydryl reactivity, and hydrophobic dye and ferritin binding capacity demonstrated that profound physicochemical changes occur in envelope conversions CE → VE → FE. The physical strength of the envelopes, as evidenced by deformability studies, ranked FE > CE > VE. These differences were not accountable by differences in the number of disulfide bonds, although the CE sulfhydryl groups were significantly less accessible than those in the VE or FE. All three envelope forms were hydrophilic in nature, exhibiting little ability to bind l-anilino-8-naphthalenesulfonic acid. The CE bound greater amounts of ferritin in comparison to the VE and FE, indicating the presence of a basic domain, presumably in the 43-kDa glycoprotein, which is lost upon proteolysis to 41 kDa during the CE → VE conversion. The envelope integrity of all three forms was maintained by both noncovalent and covalent (disulfide) bonds. Measurements of the effect of pH on envelope solubilization indicated the involvement of an ionizable group with pKa of 8.0 in maintaining envelope structure.
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