Polarized light microscopy and digital image processing identify a multilaminar structure of the hamster zona pellucida. Academic Article uri icon


  • The zona pellucida (zona) is a glycoprotein coat that envelopes the oocyte and embryo, binds sperm during fertilization and facilitates transfer of the embryo through the Fallopian tube. Before implantation can occur, the blastocyst must hatch from the zona. Several lines of evidence suggest that the zona is multilaminar. We hypothesized that the multilaminar structure of the zona filaments could be imaged non-destructively with the polarized light microscope. A recent modification of the polarized light microscope (pol-scope), which combines innovations in polarization optics with novel image processing software, allows measurement of birefringence at all points of the image. Hamster metaphase II oocytes were placed on glass coverslips which replaced the bottom of culture dishes, imaged under differential interference contrast (DIC) and pol-scope optics, then digitized and processed to measure birefringence magnitude and orientation. The pol-scope revealed the zona to be divided into outer and inner layers separated by a zone of low retardance. This finding is consistent with filaments in the outer layer oriented tangentially and in the inner layer oriented radially. The multilaminar structure of the mammalian zona suggested by differential lectin binding and by scanning electron microscopy could be imaged non-destructively with the pol-scope. Because the pol-scope provides a non-destructive method to identify macro-molecular organization of the zona, it may prove useful in developmental studies of hatching and to direct resection of the zona.

publication date

  • June 1997