Int. J. Dev. Biol. 53: 1609 - 1622 (2009)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.072296em
© UPV/EHU Press

The role of ion fluxes in polarized cell growth and morphogenesis: the pollen tube as an experimental paradigm

Erwan Michard1, Filipa Alves1 and José A. Feijó1,2,*

1 Centro de Biologia do Desenvolvimento, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Oeiras and 2 Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciências, Dept. Biologia Vegetal, Campo Grande, Lisboa, Portugal

ABSTRACT In order to cope with reproduction in a dry environment without any sort of motility, plants have developed a very specialized and unique sexual system. Of special notice, the two sperm cells that will perform the double fertilization typical of higher plants are carried by one of the fastest growing cells in nature, the pollen tube. This tube develops from the vegetative cell of the pollen grain upon germination on the female tissues. While it cannot be considered as a canonical excitable cell, pollen tubes depend for most of their fundamental functional features on a close regulation of ion dynamics, namely in terms of polarization of extracellular fluxes and formation of standing cytosolic free ion gradients, namely of calcium (Ca2+) and protons (H+). In turn, these imply that plasma membrane transporters are polarized, or polarly regulated, and that internal signaling cascades transduce this spatial information into the basic features of growth and morphogenesis needed for pollen tubes to target correctly the ovules and discharge the sperm cells. Because of the singularity of this organization, and the ease with which pollen tubes can be experimentally handled, recent years have witnessed an accumulation of data at many levels, from basic biophysical and cell biology characterization, to gene assignment and transcriptomic description of pollen development. In this review we aim to organize this information in terms of the basic biophysical features of membrane function and integrate it into conceptual testable hypotheses on how the dynamics of ion regulation may underlie fundamental properties of cell development.

Keywords:

Plant development, pollen, ion channel, proton pump, cell polarization

*Corresponding author e-mail: jfeijo@fc.ul.pt