Cytoplasmic connection of sperm cells to the pollen vegetative cell nucleus: potential roles of the male germ unit revisited

J Exp Bot. 2011 Mar;62(5):1621-31. doi: 10.1093/jxb/err032.


The male germ cells of angiosperm plants are neither free-living nor flagellated and therefore are dependent on the unique structure of the pollen grain for fertilization. During angiosperm male gametogenesis, an asymmetric mitotic division produces the generative cell, which is completely enclosed within the cytoplasm of the larger pollen grain vegetative cell. Mitotic division of the generative cell generates two sperm cells that remain connected by a common extracellular matrix with potential intercellular connections. In addition, one sperm cell has a cytoplasmic projection in contact with the vegetative cell nucleus. The shared extracellular matrix of the two sperm cells and the physical association of one sperm cell to the vegetative cell nucleus forms a linkage of all the genetic material in the pollen grain, termed the male germ unit. Found in species representing both the monocot and eudicot lineages, the cytoplasmic projection is formed by vesicle formation and microtubule elongation shortly after the formation of the generative cell and tethers the male germ unit until just prior to fertilization. The cytoplasmic projection plays a structural role in linking the male germ unit, but potentially plays other important roles. Recently, it has been speculated that the cytoplasmic projection and the male germ unit may facilitate communication between the somatic vegetative cell nucleus and the germinal sperm cells, via RNA and/or protein transport. This review focuses on the nature of the sperm cell cytoplasmic projection and the potential communicative function of the male germ unit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / genetics*
  • Arabidopsis / ultrastructure
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism*
  • Gametogenesis
  • Microtubules
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants / ultrastructure
  • Pollen / metabolism*
  • Pollen / ultrastructure
  • Pollen Tube / genetics
  • Pollen Tube / growth & development*
  • RNA, Plant / metabolism


  • Plant Proteins
  • RNA, Plant