Fertilization is the culminating event of sexual reproduction, which involves the union of the sperm and egg to form a single, genetically distinct organism. Despite the fundamental role of fertilization, the basic mechanisms involved have remained poorly understood. However, these mechanisms must involve an ordered schedule of cellular recognition events between the sperm and egg to ensure successful fusion. In this article, we review recent progress in our molecular understanding of mammalian fertilization, highlighting the areas in which genetic approaches have been particularly informative and focusing especially on the roles of secreted and cell surface proteins, expressed in a sex-specific manner, that mediate sperm-egg interactions. We discuss how the sperm interacts with the female reproductive tract, zona pellucida, and the oolemma. Finally, we review recent progress made in elucidating the mechanisms that reduce polyspermy and ensure that eggs normally fuse with only a single sperm.


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