The first member of the cysteine-rich secretory protein (CRISP) family was described by our laboratory in the rat epididymis, and it is known as DE or CRISP-1. Since then, numerous CRISPs exhibiting a high amino acid sequence similarity have been identified in animals, plants and fungi, although their functions remain largely unknown. CRISP-1 proteins are candidates to mediate gamete fusion in the rat, mouse and human through their binding to complementary sites on the egg surface. To elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying CRISP-1 function, in the present work, deletion mutants of protein DE were generated and examined for their ability to bind to the rat egg and interfere with gamete fusion. Results revealed that the egg-binding ability of DE resides within a 45-amino acid N-terminal region containing the two motifs of the CRISP family named Signature 1 and Signature 2. Subsequent assays using synthetic peptides and other CRISPs support that the egg-binding site of DE falls in the 12-amino-acid region corresponding to Signature 2. The interesting finding that the binding site of DE resides in an evolutionarily conserved region of the molecule provides novel information on the molecular mechanisms underlying CRISP-1 function in gamete fusion with important implications on the structure-function relationship of other members of the widely distributed CRISP family.