Oocyte development within avian ovarian follicles is an intricate process involving yolk deposition and the formation of extraoocytic matrices. Of these, the perivitelline membrane (pvm) not only plays a role in sperm binding but also provides mechanical support for the large oocyte's journey through the oviduct after ovulation. To date we have focused on the mechanisms for uptake of yolk precursors into oocytes of the chicken; now we extend our studies to a detailed analysis of the pvm. In the course of characterization of its major components, we obtained partial protein sequences; comparison with the GenBank database revealed that one of the pvm proteins is the homologue of mammalian zona pellucida glycoprotein 3 (ZP3), a key component in sperm binding. Following a nomenclature based on gene structure, the protein is referred to as chicken ZPC (chZPC). The chicken protein (444 residues) and murine ZP3 (424 residues) are highly conserved, with 41% of the amino acids identical. As shown by Northern blot analysis, the avian ZPC gene is expressed exclusively in the granulosa cells surrounding the oocyte, in contrast to murine ZP3, which is synthesized by the oocyte. Upon reaching a size larger than 1.5 mm in diameter, follicles accumulate chZPC in highly polarized fashion, i.e., in the space intercalated between the oocyte and the granulosa cells, as revealed by immunohistochemistry of follicle sections. ChZPC synthesis and secretion by granulosa cells was demonstrated directly by metabolic labeling and immunoprecipitation from the culture medium of granulosa cell sheets isolated ex vivo from follicles. Immunoblot analysis and glycosidase treatment of chZPC from preovulatory and freshly ovulated oocytes, as well as laid eggs, revealed that the primary product undergoes a two-step decrease in size from follicle to laid egg that is unlikely to be due to modification of the carbohydrate moiety.