1. An assessment of the efficiency of the acrosome reaction (AR) provides an important predictor of the fertilizing potential of semen and for diagnosis of the causes of infertility. A standardized protocol was therefore developed for initiation of the acrosome reaction in emu spermatozoa in vitro, and the role of CaCl2 or perivitelline membrane (PVM) proteins in determining the outcome of the reaction was investigated. 2. The acrosome reaction (assessed by FITC-PNA) was successfully induced in live spermatozoa by incubation for 2 min in NaCl-TES medium supplemented with 5 mM CaCl2. The maximum response was 32% live acrosome-reacted spermatozoa (LAR) achieved after 10 min incubation. 3. Compared to the outcome with 5 mM CaCl2 or PVM protein alone, the response was significantly better with a combination of PVM protein and CaCl2. 4. A significant variation in the percentage of LAR spermatozoa among individual males was observed. No treatment affected the percentage of dead acrosome-reacted spermatozoa. 5. The results emphasize the important role played by both PVM proteins and Ca2+ in the in vitro initiation of the acrosome reaction. © 2013 Copyright © 2013 British Poultry Science Ltd.