We hypothesized that cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) in sugar beet may be the consequence of mitochondrial dysfunctions affecting normal anther development. To test the hypothesis, we attempted to mimic the sugar beet CMS phenotype by inhibiting the expression of mitochondrial pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH), which is essential for the operation of the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. Screening with a cDNA library of sugar beet flower buds allowed the identification of two PDH E1alpha subunit genes (bvPDH_E1alpha-1 and bvPDH_E1alpha-2). bvPDH_E1alpha-1 was found to be highly expressed in tap roots, whereas bvPDH_E1alpha-2 was expressed most abundantly in flower buds. Green fluorescent protein (GFP) fusion of bvPDH_E1alpha revealed mitochondrial targeting properties. A 300-bp bvPDH_E1alpha-1 cDNA sequence (from +620 to +926) was connected to a tapetum-specific promoter in the antisense orientation and then introduced into tobacco. Antisense expression of bvPDH_E1alpha-1 resulted in conspicuously decreased endogenous bvPDH_E1alpha-1 transcripts and male sterility. The tapetum in the male-sterile anthers showed swelling or abnormal vacuolation. It is also worth noting that in the sterile anthers, cell organelles, such as elaioplasts, tapetosomes and orbicules were poorly formed and microspores exhibited aberrant exine development. These features are shared by sugar beet CMS. The results thus clearly indicate that inhibition of PDH activity in anther tapetum is sufficient to cause male sterility, a phenocopy of the sugar beet CMS.