A peptide (resact) associated with the eggs of the sea urchin, Arbacia punctulata, which stimulates sperm respiration rates by 5-10-fold, was purified and its amino acid sequence was determined. The sequence was found to be Cys-Val-Thr-Gly-Ala-Pro-Gly-Cys-Val-Gly-Gly-Gly-Arg-Leu-NH2. The peptide was subsequently synthesized by solid phase methods, amidated at the carboxyl-terminal Leu, and shown to be identical to the isolated, native material. The peptide half-maximally stimulated A. punctulata spermatozoan respiration at 0.5 nM and half-maximally elevated cyclic GMP concentrations at 25 nM at an extracellular pH of 6.6. The increase in oxygen consumption was coupled with a stimulation of motility. However, at elevated extracellular pH (pH 8.0), resact failed to appreciably stimulate respiration while the elevations of cyclic GMP continued to occur. Resact did not cross-react with sperm cells obtained from Lytechinus pictus or Strongylocentrotus purpuratus; a peptide (speract) obtained from S. purpuratus eggs (Gly-Phe-Asp-Leu-Asn-Gly-Gly-Gly-Val-Gly) which activates S. purpuratus sperm respiration did not stimulate A. punctulata spermatozoa. Resact caused a shift in the apparent molecular weight (160,000-150,000) of a major sperm plasma membrane protein; as with cyclic GMP elevations, this response was evident at extracellular pH values of both 6.6 and 8.0. The protein exists in the cell as a phosphoprotein and 32P is released coincident with the molecular weight change. Approximately 115 nM resact caused one-half-maximal conversion of the 160,000-dalton protein after 1 min of incubation. Resact caused the apparent molecular weight conversion of the protein within 5 s and appeared to do so in an irreversible manner. The molecular weight change of the protein was also observed after the addition of monensin A (25 microM) and NH4Cl (40 mM), two agents known to elevate intracellular pH and to increase sperm respiration rates. The membrane protein appears to be the enzyme guanylate cyclase, but since concentrations of resact causing one-half-maximal conversion of the Mr = 160,000 form of the enzyme are about 250 times higher than those causing one-half-maximal stimulation of respiration, the relationship of the apparent molecular weight conversion to a subsequent physiological event remains unclear.