The female gametophyte of flowering plants, the embryo sac, develops within the diploid (sporophytic) tissue of the ovule. While embryo sac–expressed genes are known to be required at multiple stages of the fertilization process, the set of embryo sac–expressed genes has remained poorly defined. In particular, the set of genes responsible for mediating intracellular communication between the embryo sac and the male gametophyte, the pollen grain, is unknown. We used high-throughput cDNA sequencing and whole-genome tiling arrays to compare gene expression in wild-type ovules to that in dif1 ovules, which entirely lack embryo sacs, and myb98 ovules, which are impaired in pollen tube attraction. We identified nearly 400 genes that are downregulated in dif1 ovules. Seventy-eight percent of these embryo sac–dependent genes were predicted to encode for secreted proteins, and 60% belonged to multigenic families. Our results define a large number of candidate extracellular signaling molecules that may act during embryo sac development or fertilization; less than half of these are represented on the widely used ATH1 expression array. In particular, we found that 37 out of 40 genes encoding Domain of Unknown Function 784 (DUF784) domains require the synergid-specific transcription factor MYB98 for expression. Several DUF784 genes were transcribed in synergid cells of the embryo sac, implicating the DUF784 gene family in mediating late stages of embryo sac development or interactions with pollen tubes. The coexpression of highly similar proteins suggests a high degree of functional redundancy among embryo sac genes.
During the sexual reproduction of flowering plants, a pollen tube delivers sperm cells to a specialized group of cells known as the embryo sac, which contains the egg cell. It is known that embryo sacs are active participants in guiding the growth of pollen tubes, in facilitating fertilization, and in initiating seed development. However, the genes responsible for the complex biology of embryo sacs are poorly understood. The authors use two recently developed technologies, whole-genome tiling microarrays and high-throughput cDNA sequencing, to identify hundreds of genes expressed in embryo sacs of Arabidopsis thaliana. Most embryo sac–dependent genes have no known function, and include entire families of related genes that are only expressed in embryo sacs. Furthermore, most embryo sac–dependent genes encode small proteins that are potentially secreted from their cells of origin, suggesting that they may act as intracellular signals or to modify the extracellular matrix during fertilization or embryo sac development. These results illustrate the extent to which our understanding of plant sexual reproduction is limited and identifies hundreds of candidate genes for future studies investigating the molecular biology of the embryo sac.
The launch of seed development in flowering plants (angiosperms) is initiated by the process of double fertilization: two male gametes (sperm cells) fuse with two female gametes (egg and central cell) to form the precursor cells of the two major seed components, the embryo and endosperm, respectively. The immobile sperm cells are delivered by the pollen tube toward the ovule harboring the female gametophyte by species-specific pollen tube guidance and attraction mechanisms. After pollen tube burst inside the female gametophyte, the two sperm cells fuse with the egg and central cell initiating seed development. The fertilized central cell forms the endosperm while the fertilized egg cell, the zygote, will form the actual embryo and suspensor. The latter structure connects the embryo with the sporophytic maternal tissues of the developing seed. The underlying mechanisms of double fertilization are tightly regulated to ensure delivery of functional sperm cells and the formation of both, a functional zygote and endosperm. In this review we will discuss the current state of knowledge about the processes of directed pollen tube growth and its communication with the synergid cells resulting in pollen tube burst, the interaction of the four gametes leading to cell fusion and finally discuss mechanisms how flowering plants prevent multiple sperm cell entry (polyspermy) to maximize their reproductive success.
pollen tube; ovule; gamete interaction; cell fusion; signaling; fertilization; polyspermy
Arabidopsis has three cytokinin receptors genes: CRE1, AHK2 and AHK3. Availability of plants that are homozygous mutant for these three genes indicates that cytokinin receptors in the haploid cells are dispensable for the development of male and female gametophytes. The triple mutants form a few flowers but never set seed, indicating that reproductive growth is impaired. We investigated which reproductive processes are affected in the triple mutants. Anthers of mutant plants contained fewer pollen grains and did not dehisce. Pollen in the anthers completed the formation of the one vegetative nucleus and the two sperm nuclei, as seen in wild type. The majority of the ovules were abnormal: 78% lacked the embryo sac, 10% carried a female gametophyte that terminated its development before completing three rounds of nuclear division, and about 12% completed three rounds of nuclear division but the gametophytes were smaller than those of the wild type. Reciprocal crosses between the wild type and the triple mutants indicated that pollen from mutant plants did not germinate on wild-type stigmas, and wild-type pollen did not germinate on mutant stigmas. These results suggest that cytokinin receptors in the sporophyte are indispensable for anther dehiscence, pollen maturation, induction of pollen germination by the stigma and female gametophyte formation and maturation.
cytokinin; cytokinin receptor; female gametophyte; male gametophyte; stigma
The angiosperm female gametophyte is critical for plant reproduction. It contains the egg cell and central cell that become fertilized and give rise to the embryo and endosperm of the seed, respectively. Female gametophyte development begins early in ovule development with the formation of a diploid megaspore mother cell that undergoes meiosis. One resulting haploid megaspore then develops into the female gametophyte. Genetic and epigenetic processes mediate specification of megaspore mother cell identity and limit megaspore mother cell formation to a single cell per ovule. Auxin gradients influence female gametophyte polarity and a battery of transcription factors mediate female gametophyte cell specification and differentiation. The mature female gametophyte secretes peptides that guide the pollen tube to the embryo sac and contains protein complexes that prevent seed development before fertilization. Post-fertilization, the female gametophyte influences seed development through maternal-effect genes and by regulating parental contributions. Female gametophytes can form by an asexual process called gametophytic apomixis, which involves formation of a diploid female gametophyte and fertilization-independent development of the egg into the embryo. These functions collectively underscore the important role of the female gametophyte in seed and food production.
Seed development in angiosperms is dependent on the interplay among different transcriptional programs operating in the embryo, the endosperm, and the maternally-derived seed coat. In angiosperms, the embryo and the endosperm are products of double fertilization during which the two pollen sperm cells fuse with the egg cell and the central cell of the female gametophyte. In Arabidopsis, analyses of mutants in the cell-cycle regulator CYCLIN DEPENDENT KINASE A;1 (CKDA;1) have revealed the importance of a paternal genome for the effective development of the endosperm and ultimately the seed. Here we have exploited cdka;1 fertilization as a novel tool for the identification of seed regulators and factors involved in parent-of-origin–specific regulation during seed development. We have generated genome-wide transcription profiles of cdka;1 fertilized seeds and identified approximately 600 genes that are downregulated in the absence of a paternal genome. Among those, AGAMOUS-LIKE (AGL) genes encoding Type-I MADS-box transcription factors were significantly overrepresented. Here, AGL36 was chosen for an in-depth study and shown to be imprinted. We demonstrate that AGL36 parent-of-origin–dependent expression is controlled by the activity of METHYLTRANSFERASE1 (MET1) maintenance DNA methyltransferase and DEMETER (DME) DNA glycosylase. Interestingly, our data also show that the active maternal allele of AGL36 is regulated throughout endosperm development by components of the FIS Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2), revealing a new type of dual epigenetic regulation in seeds.
Seeds of flowering plants consist of three different organisms that develop in parallel. In contrast to animals, a double fertilization event takes place in plants, producing two fertilization products, the embryo and the endosperm. Imprinting, the parent-of-origin–specific expression of genes, typically takes place in the mammalian placenta and in the plant endosperm. A prevailing hypothesis predicts that a parental tug-of-war on the allocation of available recourses to the developing progeny has led to the evolution of imprinting systems where genes expressed from the mother dampen growth whereas genes expressed from the father are growth enhancers. The number of imprinted genes identified in plants is low compared to mammals, and this precludes the elucidation of the epigenetic mechanisms responsible for this specialized expression system. Here, we have used genome-wide transcript profiling of endosperm without paternal contribution to identify seed regulators and, among these, imprinted genes. We identified a cluster of downregulated MADS-box transcription factors, including AGL36, that was subsequently shown to be imprinted by an epigenetic mechanism involving the DNA methylase MET1 and the glycosylase DME. In addition, the expression of the active AGL36 allele was dampened by the FIS Polycomb Repressive Complex, identifying a novel mode of regulation of imprinted genes.
In contrast to animals and lower plants such as mosses and ferns, sperm cells of flowering plants (angiosperms) are immobile and require transportation to the female gametes via the vegetative pollen tube cell to achieve double fertilization. The path of the pollen tube towards the female gametophyte (embryo sac) has been intensively studied in many intra- and interspecific crossing experiments with the aim of increasing the gene pool of crop plants for greater yield, improved biotic and abiotic stress resistance, and for introducing new agronomic traits. Many attempts to hybridize different species or genotypes failed due to the difficulty for the pollen tubes in reaching the female gametophyte. Detailed studies showed that these processes are controlled by various self-incompatible (intraspecific) and cross-incompatible (interspecific) hybridization mechanisms.
Understanding the molecular mechanisms of crossing barriers is therefore of great interest in plant reproduction, evolution and breeding research. In particular, pre-zygotic hybridization barriers related to pollen tube germination, growth, guidance and sperm delivery, which are considered the major hybridization controls in nature and thus also contribute to species isolation and speciation, have been intensively investigated. Despite this general interest, surprisingly little is known about these processes in the most important agronomic plant family, the Gramineae, Poaceae or grasses. Small polymorphic proteins and their receptors, degradation of sterility locus proteins and general compounds such as calcium, γ-aminobutyric acid or nitric oxide have been shown to be involved in progamic pollen germination, adhesion, tube growth and guidance, as well as sperm release. Most advances have been made in the Brassicaceae, Papaveraceae, Linderniaceae and Solanaceae families including their well-understood self-incompatibility (SI) systems. Grass species evolved similar mechanisms to control the penetration and growth of self-pollen to promote intraspecific outcrossing and to prevent fertilization by alien sperm cells. However, in the Poaceae, the underlying molecular mechanisms are still largely unknown.
We propose to develop maize (Zea mays) as a model to investigate the above-described processes to understand the associated intra- and interspecific crossing barriers in grasses. Many genetic, cellular and biotechnological tools including the completion of a reference genome (inbred line B73) have been established in the last decade and many more maize inbred genomes are expected to be available soon. Moreover, a cellular marker line database as well as large transposon insertion collections and improved Agrobacterium transformation protocols are now available. Additionally, the processes described above are well studied at the morphological level and a number of mutants have been described already, awaiting disclosure of the relevant genes. The identification of the first key players in pollen tube growth, guidance and burst show maize to be an excellent grass model to investigate these processes in more detail. Here we provide an overview of our current understanding of these processes in Poaceae with a focus on maize, and also include relevant discoveries in eudicot model species.
Maize; male germline; sperm cell; interspecific crosses; self- and cross-incompatibility; pollen tube growth and guidance; fertilization; reproductive isolation
In eukaryotes, fertilization relies on complex and specialized mechanisms that achieve the precise delivery of the male gamete to the female gamete and their subsequent union [1–4]. In flowering plants, the haploid male gametophyte or pollen tube (PT)  carries two non-motile sperm cells to the female gametophyte (FG) or embryo sac  during a long assisted journey through the maternal tissues [7–10]. In Arabidopsis, typically one PT reaches one of the two synergids of the FG (Figure 1A) where it terminates its growth and delivers the sperm cells, a poorly understood process called pollen tube reception. Here, we report the isolation and characterization of the Arabidopsis mutant abstinence by mutual consent. Interestingly, pollen tube reception is impaired only when an amc pollen tube reaches an amc female gametophyte resulting in pollen tube overgrowth and completely preventing sperm discharge and the development of homozygous mutants. Moreover, we show that AMC is strongly and transiently expressed in both male and female gametophytes during fertilization and that AMC functions in gametophytes as a peroxin essential for protein import into peroxisomes. These findings show that peroxisomes play an unexpected key role in gametophyte recognition and implicate a diffusible signal emanating from either gametophytes that is required for pollen tube discharge.
Pollen tube germination, growth, and guidance (progamic phase) culminating in sperm discharge is a multi-stage process including complex interactions between the male gametophyte as well as sporophytic tissues and the female gametophyte (embryo sac), respectively. Inter- and intra-specific crossing barriers in maize and Tripsacum have been studied and a precise description of progamic pollen tube development in maize is reported here. It was found that pollen germination and initial tube growth are rather unspecific, but an early, first crossing barrier was detected before arrival at the transmitting tract. Pollination of maize silks with Tripsacum pollen and incompatible pollination of Ga1s/Ga1s-maize silks with ga1-maize pollen revealed another two incompatibility barriers, namely transmitting tract mistargeting and insufficient growth support. Attraction and growth support by the transmitting tract seem to play key roles for progamic pollen tube growth. After leaving transmitting tracts, pollen tubes have to navigate across the ovule in the ovular cavity. Pollination of an embryo sac-less maize RNAi-line allowed the role of the female gametophyte for pollen tube guidance to be determined in maize. It was found that female gametophyte controlled guidance is restricted to a small region around the micropyle, approximately 50–100 μm in diameter. This area is comparable to the area of influence of previously described ZmEA1-based short-range female gametophyte signalling. In conclusion, the progamic phase is almost completely under sporophytic control in maize.
Female gametophyte; maize; pollen tube guidance; prezygotic barriers; transmitting tract; Tripsacum
In flowering plants, the female gametophyte is typically a seven-celled structure with four cell types: the egg cell, the central cell, the synergid cells, and the antipodal cells. These cells perform essential functions required for double fertilization and early seed development. Differentiation of these distinct cell types likely involves coordinated changes in gene expression regulated by transcription factors. Therefore, understanding female gametophyte cell differentiation and function will require dissection of the gene regulatory networks operating in each of the cell types. These efforts have been hampered because few transcription factor genes expressed in the female gametophyte have been identified. To identify such genes, we undertook a large-scale differential expression screen followed by promoter-fusion analysis to detect transcription-factor genes transcribed in the Arabidopsis female gametophyte.
Using quantitative reverse-transcriptase PCR, we analyzed 1,482 Arabidopsis transcription-factor genes and identified 26 genes exhibiting reduced mRNA levels in determinate infertile 1 mutant ovaries, which lack female gametophytes, relative to ovaries containing female gametophytes. Spatial patterns of gene transcription within the mature female gametophyte were identified for 17 transcription-factor genes using promoter-fusion analysis. Of these, ten genes were predominantly expressed in a single cell type of the female gametophyte including the egg cell, central cell and the antipodal cells whereas the remaining seven genes were expressed in two or more cell types. After fertilization, 12 genes were transcriptionally active in the developing embryo and/or endosperm.
We have shown that our quantitative reverse-transcriptase PCR differential-expression screen is sufficiently sensitive to detect transcription-factor genes transcribed in the female gametophyte. Most of the genes identified in this study have not been reported previously as being expressed in the female gametophyte. Therefore, they might represent novel regulators and provide entry points for reverse genetic and molecular approaches to uncover the gene regulatory networks underlying female gametophyte development.
Species-preferential osmotic pollen tube burst and sperm discharge in maize involve induced opening of the pollen tube-expressed potassium channel KZM1 by the egg apparatus-derived defensin-like protein ZmES4.
In contrast to animals and lower plant species, sperm cells of flowering plants are non-motile and are transported to the female gametes via the pollen tube, i.e. the male gametophyte. Upon arrival at the female gametophyte two sperm cells are discharged into the receptive synergid cell to execute double fertilization. The first players involved in inter-gametophyte signaling to attract pollen tubes and to arrest their growth have been recently identified. In contrast the physiological mechanisms leading to pollen tube burst and thus sperm discharge remained elusive. Here, we describe the role of polymorphic defensin-like cysteine-rich proteins ZmES1-4 (Zea mays embryo sac) from maize, leading to pollen tube growth arrest, burst, and explosive sperm release. ZmES1-4 genes are exclusively expressed in the cells of the female gametophyte. ZmES4-GFP fusion proteins accumulate in vesicles at the secretory zone of mature synergid cells and are released during the fertilization process. Using RNAi knock-down and synthetic ZmES4 proteins, we found that ZmES4 induces pollen tube burst in a species-preferential manner. Pollen tube plasma membrane depolarization, which occurs immediately after ZmES4 application, as well as channel blocker experiments point to a role of K+-influx in the pollen tube rupture mechanism. Finally, we discovered the intrinsic rectifying K+ channel KZM1 as a direct target of ZmES4. Following ZmES4 application, KZM1 opens at physiological membrane potentials and closes after wash-out. In conclusion, we suggest that vesicles containing ZmES4 are released from the synergid cells upon male-female gametophyte signaling. Subsequent interaction between ZmES4 and KZM1 results in channel opening and K+ influx. We further suggest that K+ influx leads to water uptake and culminates in osmotic tube burst. The species-preferential activity of polymorphic ZmES4 indicates that the mechanism described represents a pre-zygotic hybridization barrier and may be a component of reproductive isolation in plants.
Sperm cells of animals and lower plants are mobile and can swim to the oocyte or egg cell. In contrast, flowering plants generate immobile sperm encased in a pollen coat to protect them from drying out and are transported via the pollen tube cell towards the egg apparatus to achieve double fertilization. Upon arrival the pollen tube tip bursts to deliver two sperm cells, one fusing with the egg cell to generate the embryo and the other fusing with the central cell to generate the endosperm. Here, we report the mechanisms leading to pollen tube burst and sperm discharge in maize. We found that before fertilization the defensin-like protein ZmES1-4 is stored in the secretory zone of the egg apparatus cells and that pollen tubes cannot discharge sperm in ZmES1-4 knock-down plants. Application of chemically synthesized ZmES4 leads to pollen tube burst within seconds in maize, but not in other plant species, suggesting this mechanism may be species specific. Finally, we identified the pollen tube-expressed potassium channel KZM1 as a target of ZmES4, which opens after ZmES4 treatment and probably leads to K+ influx and sperm release after osmotic burst.
One major player known to be essential for successful gamete interactions during double fertilization in Arabidopsis thaliana is the recently identified family of egg cell-secreted EC1 proteins. Both gamete fusion events are affected in EC1-deficient female gametophytes. Here, we show that the number of ovules with unfused sperm cells is considerably higher than the number of undeveloped seeds in the same ec1-RNAi knockdown lines. We found that some sperm cells are able to fuse with the female gametes even 2 to 3 days after pollination, as reflected by delayed embryo and endosperm development, and by polytubey. We propose that the egg cell secretes EC1 proteins upon sperm arrival to promote rapid sperm activation, thereby accelerating gamete fusion and preventing polytubey.
CRP; EC1; double fertilization; gamete fusion; polytubey; sperm activation
Polarized cell elongation is triggered by small molecule cues during development of diverse organisms. During plant reproduction, pollen interactions with the stigma result in the polar outgrowth of a pollen tube, which delivers sperm cells to the female gametophyte to effect double fertilization. In many plants, pistils stimulate pollen germination. However, in Arabidopsis, the effect of pistils on pollen germination and the pistil factors that stimulate pollen germination remain poorly characterized. Here, we demonstrate that stigma, style, and ovules in Arabidopsis pistils stimulate pollen germination. We isolated an Arabidopsis pistil extract fraction that stimulates Arabidopsis pollen germination, and employed ultrahigh resolution ESI FT-ICR and MS/MS techniques to accurately determine the mass (202.126 daltons) of a compound that is specifically present in this pistil extract fraction. Using the molecular formula (C10H19NOS) and tandem mass spectral fragmentation patterns of the m/z (mass to charge ratio) 202.126 ion, we postulated chemical structures, devised protocols, synthesized N-Methanesulfinyl 1- and 2-azadecalins that are close structural mimics of the m/z 202.126 ion, and showed that they are sufficient to stimulate Arabidopsis pollen germination in vitro (30 µM stimulated ~50% germination) and elicit accession-specific response. Although N-Methanesulfinyl 2-azadecalin stimulated pollen germination in three species of Lineage I of Brassicaceae, it did not induce a germination response in Sisymbrium irio (Lineage II of Brassicaceae) and tobacco, indicating that activity of the compound is not random. Our results show that Arabidopsis pistils promote germination by producing azadecalin-like molecules to ensure rapid fertilization by the appropriate pollen.
Pollen; pistil; germination; stimulant; chemical biology; functional mimic
In flowering plants, gametogenesis generates multicellular male and female gametophytes. In the model system Arabidopsis, the male gametophyte or pollen grain contains two sperm cells and a vegetative cell. The female gametophyte or embryo sac contains seven cells, namely one egg, two synergids, one central cell and three antipodal cells. Double fertilization of the central cell and egg produces respectively a triploid endosperm and a diploid zygote that develops further into an embryo. The genetic control of the early embryo patterning, especially the initiation of the first zygotic division and the positioning of the cell plate, is largely unknown.
Here we report the characterization of a mutation, yaozhe (yao), that causes zygote arrest and misplacement of cell plate of the zygote, leading to early embryo lethality. In addition, gametophyte development is partially impaired. A small portion of the mutant embryo sacs are arrested at four-nucleate stage with aberrant nuclear positioning. Furthermore, the competence of male gametophytes is also compromised. YAO encodes a nucleolar protein with seven WD-repeats. Its homologues in human and yeast have been shown to be components of the U3 snoRNP complex and function in 18S rRNA processing. YAO is expressed ubiquitously, with high level of expression in tissues under active cell divisions, including embryo sacs, pollen, embryos, endosperms and root tips.
Phenotypic analysis indicated that YAO is required for the correct positioning of the first zygotic division plane and plays a critical role in gametogenesis in Arabidopsis. Since YAO is a nucleolar protein and its counterparts in yeast and human are components of the U3 snoRNP complex, we therefore postulate that YAO is most likely involved in rRNA processing in plants as well.
Arabidopsis MAP kinases are considered to have redundant functions. However, through a detailed phenotypic analysis, we demonstrated that MPK6 loss-of- function cause severe defects in embryo development, which are closed related with alterations in post-germination root development
Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPKs) cascades are signal transduction modules highly conserved in all eukaryotes regulating various aspects of plant biology, including stress responses and developmental programmes. In this study, we characterized the role of MAPK 6 (MPK6) in Arabidopsis embryo development and in post-embryonic root system architecture. We found that the mpk6 mutation caused altered embryo development giving rise to three seed phenotypes that, post-germination, correlated with alterations in root architecture. In the smaller seed class, mutant seedlings failed to develop the primary root, possibly as a result of an earlier defect in the division of the hypophysis cell during embryo development, but they had the capacity to develop adventitious roots to complete their life cycle. In the larger class, the MPK6 loss of function did not cause any evident alteration in seed morphology, but the embryo and the mature seed were bigger than the wild type. Seedlings developed from these bigger seeds were characterized by a primary root longer than that of the wild type, accompanied by significantly increased lateral root initiation and more and longer root hairs. Apparently, the increment in primary root growth resulted from an enhanced cell production and cell elongation. Our data demonstrated that MPK6 plays an important role during embryo development and acts as a repressor of primary and lateral root development.
Arabidopsis; embryo development; MAP kinases; MPK6; plant signalling; root development.
The composition of homogalacturonans (HGs) in the ovule and the female gametophyte cell walls was shown to be rearranged dynamically during sexual reproduction ofH. orientalis.
In angiosperms, homogalacturonans (HGs) play an important role in the interaction between the male gametophyte and the pistil transmitting tract, but little is known about the participation of these molecules at the final stage of the progamic phase and fertilization. The aim of our study was to perform immunocytochemical localization of highly (JIM7 MAb) and weakly (JIM5 MAb) methyl esterified and Ca2+-associated HG (2F4 MAb) in the ovule and female gametophyte cells of Hyacinthus orientalis before and after fertilization. It was found that pollination induced the rearrangement of HG in (1) the micropylar canal of the ovule, (2) the filiform apparatus of the synergids, and (3) the region of fusion between sperm cells and their target cells. Fertilization led to further changes in pectin composition of these three regions of the ovule. A new cell wall was synthesized around the zygote with a characteristic pattern of localization of all examined HG fractions, which we called “sporoderm-like”. The developing endosperm prepared for cellularization by synthesizing highly methyl-esterified HG, which was stored in the cytoplasm. Pollination- and fertilization-induced changes in the composition of the HG in the micropyle of the ovule and the apoplast of female gametophyte cells are discussed in the context of: (1) micropylar pollen tube guidance, (2) preparation of the egg cell and the central cells for fusion with sperm cells, and (3) the polyspermy block.
Homogalacturonan (HG); Pectin; Ovule; Embryo sac; Hyacinthus orientalis
Pollen tubes extend through pistil tissues and are guided to ovules where they release sperm for fertilization. Although pollen tubes can germinate and elongate in a synthetic medium, their trajectory is random and their growth rates are slower compared to growth in pistil tissues. Furthermore, interaction with the pistil renders pollen tubes competent to respond to guidance cues secreted by specialized cells within the ovule. The molecular basis for this potentiation of the pollen tube by the pistil remains uncharacterized. Using microarray analysis in Arabidopsis, we show that pollen tubes that have grown through stigma and style tissues of a pistil have a distinct gene expression profile and express a substantially larger fraction of the Arabidopsis genome than pollen grains or pollen tubes grown in vitro. Genes involved in signal transduction, transcription, and pollen tube growth are overrepresented in the subset of the Arabidopsis genome that is enriched in pistil-interacted pollen tubes, suggesting the possibility of a regulatory network that orchestrates gene expression as pollen tubes migrate through the pistil. Reverse genetic analysis of genes induced during pollen tube growth identified seven that had not previously been implicated in pollen tube growth. Two genes are required for pollen tube navigation through the pistil, and five genes are required for optimal pollen tube elongation in vitro. Our studies form the foundation for functional genomic analysis of the interactions between the pollen tube and the pistil, which is an excellent system for elucidation of novel modes of cell–cell interaction.
For successful reproduction in flowering plants, a single-celled pollen tube must rapidly extend through female pistil tissue, locate female gametes, and deliver sperm. Pollen tubes undergo a dramatic transformation while growing in the pistil; they grow faster compared to tubes grown in vitro and become competent to perceive and respond to navigation cues secreted by the pistil. The genes expressed by pollen tubes in response to growth in the pistil have not been characterized. We used a surgical procedure to obtain large quantities of uncontaminated pollen tubes that grew through the pistil and defined their transcriptome by microarray analysis. Importantly, we identify a set of genes that are specifically expressed in pollen tubes in response to their growth in the pistil and are not expressed during other stages of pollen or plant development. We analyzed mutants in 33 pollen tube–expressed genes using a sensitive series of pollen function assays and demonstrate that seven of these genes are critical for pollen tube growth; two specifically disrupt growth in the pistil. By identifying pollen tube genes induced by the pistil and describing a mutant analysis scheme to understand their function, we lay the foundation for functional genomic analysis of pollen–pistil interactions.
• Background and Aims It is generally known that fertilization is delayed for more than a few weeks after pollination in Fagales. Recent studies showed that, during that period, pollen tubes grew in pistils in close association with the development of the ovule in a five-step process in Casuarina (Casuarinaceae) and a four-step process in Alnus (Betulaceae). The number of pollen tubes was reduced from many to one, a fact suggesting that delayed fertilization plays a role for gametophyte selection. Myrica (Myricaceae) also shows delayed fertilization for >2 weeks after pollination, but nothing is known of how pollen tubes grow in the pistil during that period.
• Methods Pollen-tube growth and the development of the ovule in pistils was investigated by fluorescent and scanning electron microscopy and analysis of microtome sections of the pistils.
• Key Results Developmental study of the pollen-tube growth in the pistil of M. rubra showed that the tip of the pollen tube was branched or lay in a zigzag pattern in the upper space of the ovarian locule or near the tip of the integument, and subsequently was swollen on the nucellar surface. Such morphological changes indicate that the pollen-tube growth was temporarily arrested before fertilization. The pollen-tube growth in M. rubra can therefore be summarized as occurring in three steps: (1) from the stigma to the ovarian locule; (2) from the ovarian locule to the nucellar surface; and (3) from the nucellar surface to the embryo sac.
• Conclusion Myrica differs from other families in that the pollen tubes arrest their growth on the nucellar surface, probably digesting nutrient from nucellar cells. There is little information on five other families of Fagales. An extensive study is needed to better understand the diversity and function of the mode of pollen-tube growth within the order.
Fagales; fertilization; micropyle; Myrica; Myricaceae; pollen-tube growth
The plant life cycle alternates between two distinct multi-cellular generations, the reduced gametophytes and the dominant sporophyte. Little is known about how generation-specific cell fate, differentiation, and development are controlled by the core regulators of the cell cycle. In Arabidopsis, RETINOBLASTOMA RELATED (RBR), an evolutionarily ancient cell cycle regulator, controls cell proliferation, differentiation, and regulation of a subset of Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) genes and METHYLTRANSFERASE 1 (MET1) in the male and female gametophytes, as well as cell fate establishment in the male gametophyte. Here we demonstrate that RBR is also essential for cell fate determination in the female gametophyte, as revealed by loss of cell-specific marker expression in all the gametophytic cells that lack RBR. Maintenance of genome integrity also requires RBR, because diploid plants heterozygous for rbr (rbr/RBR) produce an abnormal portion of triploid offspring, likely due to gametic genome duplication. While the sporophyte of the diploid mutant plants phenocopied wild type due to the haplosufficiency of RBR, genetic analysis of tetraploid plants triplex for rbr (rbr/rbr/rbr/RBR) revealed that RBR has a dosage-dependent pleiotropic effect on sporophytic development, trichome differentiation, and regulation of PRC2 subunit genes CURLY LEAF (CLF) and VERNALIZATION 2 (VRN2), and MET1 in leaves. There were, however, no obvious cell cycle and cell proliferation defects in these plant tissues, suggesting that a single functional RBR copy in tetraploids is capable of maintaining normal cell division but is not sufficient for distinct differentiation and developmental processes. Conversely, in leaves of mutants in sporophytic PRC2 subunits, trichome differentiation was also affected and expression of RBR and MET1 was reduced, providing evidence for a RBR-PRC2-MET1 regulatory feedback loop involved in sporophyte development. Together, dosage-sensitive RBR function and its genetic interaction with PRC2 genes and MET1 must have been recruited during plant evolution to control distinct generation-specific cell fate, differentiation, and development.
Understanding the convergent developmental mechanisms of core cell cycle genes is highly instructive in biology. When these genes are essential in development, lethality precludes mutation analysis throughout the life cycle of an organism. We subjected a homozygous lethal mutation in RETINOBLASTOMA RELATED (RBR) of Arabidopsis for tetraploid genetic analysis to study the function of RBR during the plant life cycle. In diploids, while RBR–deficient female gametophytes with features of aberrant cell fate and differentiation were analogous to what was previously reported for male gametophytes, we provide evidence that RBR controls gametic genome duplication, thus genome integrity in the gametophyte-derived progeny. Quantitative reduction of RBR in tetraploids led to identification of rbr heterozygous plants that displayed novel RBR dosage-dependent phenotypes in differentiation and development of the sporophyte albeit the absence of cell cycle defects. These phenotypes coincided with deregulation of conserved epigenetic factors such as Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) genes and METHYLTRANSFERASE 1 (MET1) in the sporophyte, as shown for the gametophytes as well. However, unlike the repression by the PRC2 in gametophytes, RBR is activated by the sporophytic PRC2 subunits, suggesting that distinct modules of the conserved RBR-PRC2-MET1 loop control gametophyte and sporophyte generations in plants.
Calcium (Ca2+) plays essential roles in plant sexual reproduction, but the sites and the mechanism of Ca2+ mobile storage during pollen–pistil interactions have not been fully defined. Because the Ca2+-buffering protein calreticulin (CRT) is able to bind and sequester Ca2+, it can serve as a mobile intracellular store of easily releasable Ca2+ and control its local concentration within the cytoplasm. Our previous studies showed an enhanced expression of Petunia hybrida CRT gene (PhCRT) during pistil transmitting tract maturation, pollen germination and tube outgrowth on the stigma, gamete fusion, and early embryogenesis. Here, we demonstrate that elevated expression of CRT results in the accumulation of this protein in response to anthesis, pollination, sperm cells deposition within the receptive synergid and fertilization, when the level of exchangeable Ca2+ changes dynamically. CRT localizes mainly to the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi compartments in the pistil transmitting tract cells, germinated pollen/tubes, and sporophytic/gametophytic cells of the ovule and corresponds with loosely bound Ca2+. Additionally, the immunogold research shows, for the first time, highly selective CRT distribution in specific nuclear sub-domains. On the basis of our results, we discuss the possible functions of CRT with respect to the critical role of Ca2+ homeostasis during key events of the multi-step process of generative reproduction in angiosperms.
Calcium homeostasis; Chaperone activity; Embryo sac; Nucleus; Pollen germination and tube growth; Receptive synergid; Stigma
In flowering plants, the egg and sperm cells form within haploid gametophytes. The female gametophyte of Arabidopsis consists of two gametic cells, the egg cell and the central cell, which are flanked by five accessory cells. Both gametic and accessory cells are vital for fertilization; however, the mechanisms that underlie the formation of accessory versus gametic cell fate are unknown. In a screen for regulators of egg cell fate, we isolated the lachesis (lis) mutant which forms supernumerary egg cells. In lis mutants, accessory cells differentiate gametic cell fate, indicating that LIS is involved in a mechanism that prevents accessory cells from adopting gametic cell fate. The temporal and spatial pattern of LIS expression suggests that this mechanism is generated in gametic cells. LIS is homologous to the yeast splicing factor PRP4, indicating that components of the splice apparatus participate in cell fate decisions.
The selection and specification of the egg cell determine the number of eggs produced by an animal or plant, which in turn dictates how many offspring that organism can produce. In most higher plants, the egg cell forms in a specialized structure consisting of four different cell types. Two cells, the egg cell and the central cell, are fertilized by sperm cells and develop into the embryo proper and the nutritive tissue (endosperm), respectively. These two gametic cells are flanked by accessory cells; but why do some cells become gametic while others differentiate into accessory cells? To answer this question, we looked for mutants in which this process is disturbed. In the lachesis mutant, accessory cells become extra egg cells. Interestingly, it seems that the misspecification of these accessory cells results from defects in the gametic cells. This suggests that accessory cells monitor the state of the gametic cells to act as a backup if required, ensuring the formation of the key reproductive cells.
In plant egg cells, gametophytes differentiate into both gametic and accessory cells; here the authors characterize a mutant that turns accessory cells into gametic cells.
Stromal processing peptidase (SPP) is a metalloendopeptidase located in the stroma of chloroplasts, and it is responsible for the cleavage of transit peptides from preproteins upon their import into the organelle. Two independent mutant Arabidopsis lines with T-DNA insertions in the SPP gene were analysed (spp-1 and spp-2). For both lines, no homozygous mutant plants could be detected, and the segregating progeny of spp heterozygotes contained heterozygous and wild-type plants in a ratio of 2∶1. The siliques of heterozygous spp-1 and spp-2 plants contained many aborted seeds, at a frequency of ∼25%, suggesting embryo lethality. By contrast, transmission of the spp mutations through the male and female gametes was found to be normal, and so gametophytic effects could be ruled out. To further elucidate the timing of the developmental arrest, mutant and wild-type seeds were cleared and analysed by Nomarski microscopy. A significant proportion (∼25%) of the seeds in mutant siliques exhibited delayed embryogenesis compared to those in wild type. Moreover, the mutant embryos never progressed normally beyond the 16-cell stage, with cell divisions not completing properly thereafter. Heterozygous spp mutant plants were phenotypically indistinguishable from the wild type, indicating that the spp knockout mutations are completely recessive and suggesting that one copy of the SPP gene is able to produce sufficient SPP protein for normal development under standard growth conditions.
Seed development in flowering plants is initiated after a double fertilization event with two sperm cells fertilizing two female gametes, the egg cell and the central cell, leading to the formation of embryo and endosperm, respectively. In most species the endosperm is a polyploid tissue inheriting two maternal genomes and one paternal genome. As a consequence of this particular genomic configuration the endosperm is a dosage sensitive tissue, and changes in the ratio of maternal to paternal contributions strongly impact on endosperm development. The FERTILIZATION INDEPENDENT SEED (FIS) Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) is essential for endosperm development; however, the underlying forces that led to the evolution of the FIS-PRC2 remained unknown. Here, we show that the functional requirement of the FIS-PRC2 can be bypassed by increasing the ratio of maternal to paternal genomes in the endosperm, suggesting that the main functional requirement of the FIS-PRC2 is to balance parental genome contributions and to reduce genetic conflict. We furthermore reveal that the AGAMOUS LIKE (AGL) gene AGL62 acts as a dosage-sensitive seed size regulator and that reduced expression of AGL62 might be responsible for reduced size of seeds with increased maternal genome dosage.
Flowering plants reproduce by forming seeds that contain an embryo surrounded by a nourishing endosperm tissue that, similar to the mammalian placenta, supports embryo growth. Normal endosperm development requires the FERTILIZATION INDEPENDENT SEED (FIS) Polycomb Repressive Complex2 (PRC2). In most flowering plants the endosperm is a polyploid tissue containing two maternal and one paternal genome copies. As a consequence of this particular genomic configuration the endosperm is a dosage sensitive tissue, and changes in the ratio of maternal and paternal genome copies have drastic effects on endosperm development. Here we investigated the consequences of increased maternal genome dosage on endosperm and seed development. We found that increased maternal genome dosage alleviates the need for the FIS-PRC2 in the endosperm. While in fis mutant seeds with normal maternal genome dosage the endosperm fails to cellularize and embryos arrest, in fis mutant seeds with increased maternal genome dosage the endosperm cellularizes and viable embryos develop. Our study suggests a functional role of the FIS-PRC2 in balancing parental genome dosage in the endosperm. We propose that the FIS-PRC2 evolved to reduce genetic conflict that arose as a consequence of unbalanced genome contributions in the endosperm.
Previously considered as toxic by-products of aerobic metabolism, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are emerging as essential signaling molecules in eukaryotes. Recent evidence showed that maintenance of ROS homeostasis during female gametophyte development is crucial for embryo sac patterning and fertilization. Although ROS are exclusively detected in the central cell of mature embryo sacs, the study of mutants deficient in ROS homeostasis suggests that controlled oxidative bursts might take place earlier during gametophyte development. Also, a ROS burst that depends on pollination takes place inside the embryo sac. This oxidative response might be required for pollen tube growth arrest and for sperm cell release. In this mini-review, we will focus on new insights into the role of ROS during female gametophyte development and fertilization. Special focus will be made on the mitochondrial Mn-Superoxide dismutase (MSD1), which has been recently reported to be essential for maintaining ROS homeostasis during embryo sac formation.
reactive oxygen species; gametogenesis; embryo sac; female gametophyte; pollination; plant reproduction
Plant gametophytes play central roles in sexual reproduction. A hallmark of
the plant life cycle is that gene expression is required in the haploid
gametophytes. Consequently, many mutant phenotypes are expressed in this
We perform a quantitative RNA-seq analysis of embryo sacs, comparator ovules
with the embryo sacs removed, mature pollen, and seedlings to assist the
identification of gametophyte functions in maize. Expression levels were
determined for annotated genes in both gametophytes, and novel transcripts were
identified from de novo assembly of RNA-seq
reads. Transposon-related transcripts are present in high levels in both
gametophytes, suggesting a connection between gamete production and transposon
expression in maize not previously identified in any female gametophytes. Two
classes of small signaling proteins and several transcription factor gene families
are enriched in gametophyte transcriptomes. Expression patterns of maize genes
with duplicates in subgenome 1 and subgenome 2 indicate that pollen-expressed
genes in subgenome 2 are retained at a higher rate than subgenome 2 genes with
other expression patterns. Analysis of available insertion mutant collections
shows a statistically significant deficit in insertions in gametophyte-expressed
This analysis, the first RNA-seq study to compare both gametophytes in a
monocot, identifies maize gametophyte functions, gametophyte expression of
transposon-related sequences, and unannotated, novel transcripts. Reduced recovery
of mutations in gametophyte-expressed genes is supporting evidence for their
function in the gametophytes. Expression patterns of extant, duplicated maize
genes reveals that selective pressures based on male gametophytic function have
likely had a disproportionate effect on plant genomes.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13059-014-0414-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized
In angiosperms, female gamete differentiation, fertilization, and subsequent zygotic development occur in embryo sacs deeply embedded in the ovaries. Despite their importance in plant reproduction and development, how the egg cell is specialized, fuses with the sperm cell, and converts into an active zygote for early embryogenesis remains unclear. This lack of knowledge is partly attributable to the difficulty of direct analyses of gametes in angiosperms. In the present study, proteins from egg and sperm cells obtained from rice flowers were separated by one-dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and globally identified by highly sensitive liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectroscopy. Proteome analyses were also conducted for seedlings, callus, and pollen grains to compare their protein expression profiles to those of gametes. The proteomics data have been deposited to the ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD000265. A total of 2,138 and 2,179 expressed proteins were detected in egg and sperm cells, respectively, and 102 and 77 proteins were identified as preferentially expressed in egg and sperm cells, respectively. Moreover, several rice or Arabidopsis lines with mutations in genes encoding the putative gamete-enriched proteins showed clear phenotypic defects in seed set or seed development. These results suggested that the proteomic data presented in this study are foundational information toward understanding the mechanisms of reproduction and early development in angiosperms.