Phorbol ester and sperm activate mouse oocytes by inducing sustained oscillations in cell Ca2+


The parthenogenetic activation of mouse oocytes by several agents is accompanied by a large rise in the intracellular calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i)1. The tumour-promoting phorbol ester 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol acetate (TPA) activates some cellular processes which are also activated by raised [Ca2+] (ref. 2). We therefore tested TPA on mouse oocytes and found it to be a potent parthenogenetic activating agent. Recent reports suggest that TPA mimics endogenous diacylglycerol3 and can stimulate cells by activating protein kinase C without raising [Ca2+]i (refs 4, 5). We have now measured [Ca2+]i with aequorin in mouse oocytes treated with TPA. Sustained oscillations in [Ca2+]i appeared in those oocytes which were subsequently activated. We also measured [Ca2+]i during fertilization. The response began with [Ca2+]i transients as reported previously3, but the transients continued in a regular pattern for 4 h. There was no rise in [Ca2+]i of the type induced by activating agents such as ethanol. One component of the fertilization response appears to be related to the TPA-induced oscillations.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Cuthbertson, K. S. R., Whittingham, D. G. & Cobbold, P. H. Nature 294, 754–757 (1981).

  2. 2

    Durham, A. C. H. & Walton, J. M. Biosci. Rep. 2, 15–30 (1982).

  3. 3

    Nishizuka, Y. Nature 308, 693–697 (1984).

  4. 4

    Rink, T. J., Sanchez, A. & Hallam, T. J. Nature 305, 317–319 (1983).

  5. 5

    Sha'afi, R. I. et al. Biochem. biophys. Res. Commun. 114, 638–645 (1983).

  6. 6

    Cuthbertson, K. S. R. & Cobbold, P. Eur. J. Cell Biol. Suppl. 1, 14 (1983).

  7. 7

    Whittingham, D. G. in Oxford Reviews in Reproductive Biology Vol. 2 (ed. Finn, C. A.) 205–231 (Oxford University Press, (1980).

  8. 8

    Jafie, L. A., Sharp, A. P. & Wolf, D. P. Devl Biol. 96, 317–323 (1983).

  9. 9

    Miyazaki, S. & Igusa, Y. Proc. natn. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 79, 931–935 (1982).

  10. 10

    McCulloh, D. H., Rexroad, C. E. & Levitan, H. Devl Biol. 95, 372–377 (1983).

  11. 11

    Cuthbertson, K. S. R. J. exp. Zool. 226, 311–314 (1983).

  12. 12

    Cobbold, P. H., Cuthbertson, K. S. R., Goyns, M. & Rice, V. J. Cell Sci. 61, 123–136 (1983).

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Cuthbertson, K., Cobbold, P. Phorbol ester and sperm activate mouse oocytes by inducing sustained oscillations in cell Ca2+. Nature 316, 541–542 (1985).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.