• spermatozoid;
  • microtubules;
  • aberrant centrioles;
  • nuclear shaping


Electron microscopy reveals that nonmotility in the spermatozoids of mutant 230X of the fern Ceratopteris thalictroides results from highly aberrant flagella. With respect to its mitochondrial complement, amyloplasts, condensed chromatin within the nucleus and the multilayered structure (MLS), the mutation is almost indistinguishable from the wild-type spermatozoids. In contrast to flagellar mutations in other organisms (man, mouse, Drosophila, Chlamydomonas), which principally affect the microtubules of the axoneme, the basal body cartwheel is lacking in 230X. In its absence, compound microtubules with shared walls are still present, but in highly disorganized arrays. Since the amount of polymerized tubulin in the spermatozoids of 230X is approximately the same as in the wild type, the mutation does not seem to affect microtubule synthesis or assembly. Centriolar cartwheels appear to be essential templates for the alignment of triplet and doublet tubules in regular radial arrays.

The MLS in 230X is almost normal, whereas the flagella are aberrant, indicating that there are two distinct functional classes of microtubules in archegoniate spermatozoids. In contrast to the helix of 3½ gyres found in the wild type, nuclear morphology in 230X exhibits profound distortions ranging from deep channels and holes to supernumerary attenuated arms. Parts of nuclei associated with the MLS are almost normal, but malformations are in variably associated with the presence of microtubules of the aberrant flagella that are in close proximity t o the nuclear surface. The shapes of the teratologies are directly related to the number and configuration of the adjacent perinuclear tubules.

From these findings, it is argued that microtubules have a crucial role in nuclear shaping in archegoniates; and that the precise form of the nucleus is closely related to the geometry and development of the MLS. On the other hand, it is difficult to envisage how microtubules growing in the chaotic arrays found in 230X could themselves generate shaping forces, More likely, the actual force-generating system, situated in or near the nuclear envelope, has become misaligned and severely restricted by the perinuclear arrays of flagellar tubules, which function as cytoskeletal elements additional to those of the normal MLS.

Archegoniate plants are particularly advantageous for the detection of basal body mutants, since centrioles are absent from the mitotic apparatus. Cytological and hybridization studies of 230X affirm the nuclear basis of the mutation, and provide no support for the possible genetic autonomy of centrioles.