Background: In the locules of anthers of flowering plants, tiny (1.5-2 µm) granules of sporopollenin may occur next to the pollen grains. Those granules, called orbicules, mostly occur on the radial and innermost tangential wall of secretory tapetum cells.
Methods: We have investigated the presence of orbicules in 15 important European allergenic species with scanning electron microscopy (SEM).
Results: Orbicules were present in all species investigated of the families Betulaceae, Chenopodiaceae, Fagaceae, Poaceae, Polygonaceae, and Urticaceae. However, in the Asteraceae and Oleaceae species studied, orbicules were lacking. In all Chenopodiaceae, Poaceae, and Urticaceae species, orbicules were attached to the pollen exine. These observations indicate the possibility of the dispersal of orbicules into the atmosphere during anthesis.
Conclusions: The hypothesis of the potential role of orbicules as possible important vectors of allergens is put forward, based on the comparison of our results with recent literature about the evidence of allergenic activity in the smaller micronic atmospheric aerosol fraction. Our results provide evidence that an in-depth investigation of the sites of allergens across the whole anther is required. We suggest that allergen researchers apply immunoelectron microscopy on whole anthers to determine whether orbicules possess allergens.