The rabbit Acrosome Stabilizing Factor (ASF) is a glycoprotein synthesized in the corpus epididymis that reversibly decapacitates sperm. The effects of altering the conformation of ASF were evaluated by using a competitive enzyme-linked immunoabsorption assay (ELISA) with monoclonal antibodies that recognized either sequential or conformational determinants and/or an in vivo decapacitation assay. Heat denaturation (80 degrees C for 30 min) of affinity-purified ASF resulted in destruction of its native conformation concurrent with its loss of biological activity. Acid pH treatment of ASF also resulted in a conformational change in ASF, which caused a shift from the dimeric form (MW = 260,000) to the monomeric form (MW = 130,000). This manipulation allowed the biological activity of the monomeric form of ASF to be assayed separately from the dimer. The monomer was found to be biologically inactive. Proteolysis with trypsin or Staphylococcus-V8 treatment resulted in loss of the native conformation of the molecule, but Staphylococcus-V8 did not destroy the sequential determinant recognized in this analysis. This work indicates that conformation of the ASF macromolecule is important for its biological activity, and also provides a rapid means to evaluate potential decapacitation activity of purified ASF.