Cells of embryonic axes in recalcitrant horse chestnut seeds are associated with a high water content and functionally preserved vacuoles with active aquaporins and invertase. These vacuoles function to the support rapid cell elongation of the hypocotyl that results in radicle emergence and thus the start of visible germination.
Backgrounds and aims
In tropical recalcitrant seeds, their rapid transition from shedding to germination at high hydration level is of physiological interest but difficult to study because of the time constraint. In recalcitrant horse chestnut seeds produced in central Russia, this transition is much longer and extends through dormancy and dormancy release. This extended time period permits studies of the water relations in embryonic axes during the long recalcitrant period in terms of vacuolar status and water transport.
Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) seeds sampled in Moscow were stratified in cold wet sand for 4 months. Vacuole presence and development in embryonic axes were examined by vital staining, light and electron microscopy. Aquaporins and vacuolar H+-ATPase were identified immunochemically. Water channel operation was tested by water inflow rate. Vacuolar acid invertase was estimated in terms of activity and electrophoretic properties.
Throughout the long recalcitrant period after seed shedding, cells of embryonic axes maintained active vacuoles and a high water content. Preservation of enzyme machinery in vacuoles was evident from retention of invertase activity, substrate specificity, molecular mass and subunit composition. Plasmalemma and tonoplast aquaporins and the E subunit of vacuolar H+-ATPase were also present. In non-dormant seeds prior to growth initiation, vacuoles enlarged at first in hypocotyls, and then in radicles, with their biogenesis being similar. Vacuolation was accompanied by increasing invertase activity, leading to sugar accumulation and active osmotic functioning. After growth initiation, vacuole enlargement was favoured by enhanced water inflow through water channels formed by aquaporins.
Maintenance of high water content and desiccation sensitivity, as well as preservation of active vacuoles in embryonic axes after shedding, can be considered a specific feature of recalcitrant seeds, overlooked when studying tropical recalcitrants due to the short duration. The retained physiological activity of vacuoles allows them to function rapidly as dormancy is lost and when external conditions permit. Cell vacuolation precedes cell elongation in both hypocotyl and radicle, and provides impetus for rapid germination.