Fertilization is a complex process comprised of numerous steps. During fertilization, two highly specialized and differentiated cells (sperm and egg) fuse and subsequently trigger the development of an embryo from a quiescent, arrested oocyte. Molecular interactions between the sperm and egg are necessary for regulating the developmental potential of an oocyte, and precise coordination and regulation of gene expression and protein function are critical for proper embryonic development. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has emerged as a valuable model system for identifying genes involved in fertilization and the oocyte-to-embryo transition as well as for understanding the molecular mechanisms that govern these processes. In this review, we will address current knowledge of the molecular underpinnings of gamete interactions during fertilization and the oocyte-to-embryo transition in C. elegans. We will also compare our knowledge of these processes in C. elegans to what is known about similar processes in mammalian, specifically mouse, model systems.
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