The ability of a single electric pulse to mimic a block against sperm penetration in bovine oocytes matured in vitro was investigated. Confocal laser scanning microscopy detected a global loss of spots, presumed to be cortical granules, stained with Lens culinaris agglutinin, in pulsed oocytes. Transmission electron microscopy revealed that cortical granule exocytosis occurred within 1 min of stimulation and the number of remaining cortical granules was significantly reduced in all pulsed oocytes. The ability of pulsed oocytes to undergo fertilization in vitro was also affected, as only 31% of the pulsed oocytes were penetrated compared with 87% in the control group. Since incidences of penetration in pulsed oocytes (31%), and of polyspermy in control oocytes (18%) did not differ and were highly correlated (P = 0.009) among trials (n = 15), the induced block is considered to be comparable with the natural block triggered by a spermatozoon. The increased resistance of the zona pellucida to pronase E observed in pulsed oocytes suggests that the induced block depends, at least partly, on modifications of zona pellucida glycoproteins. Finally, the majority (66%) of pulsed, penetrated oocytes did not form male pronuclei, probably as a consequence of asynchrony between the formation of female pronucleus and sperm penetration. The reduced ability of the cytoplasm to induce the formation of a male pronucleus was accompanied by a fall in histone H1 kinase activity to basal values by 3 h after stimulation. These results demonstrate that a single electric pulse can induce a block against sperm penetration similar to that of the spermatozoon itself.