This review considers pollen tube growth with regard to current information on pollen tube cytoplasm, wall structure and calcium ion interactions with pollen tubes. Pollen tubes have a marked cytoplasmic Polarity with a number of distinct zones along the tube, each with a characteristic complement of cytoplasmic and nuclear structures. The cytoplasmic structures are characteristic of secretory cells with extensive endoplasmic reticulum cisternae and numerous dictyosomes. The dictyosomes produce secretory vesicles that are mainly directed to the extending tip of the tube, where they provide new plasma membrane and wall components. The rates of secretory vesicle production and delivery have been estimated, allowing quantitative assessments of the rate of delivery of materials to the tip. Pollen tubes contain cytoskeletal components, with microtubules and microfilament strands lying axially in the main tube and diffuse microfilament strands at the tip.
The tube wall consists of an outer fibrous layer containing pectins and an inner, more homogeneous layer containing callose and cellulose-like microfibrils, possessing both β-1,4 and β-1,3 linkages. Protein is also present in the wall. The tube tip lacks the inner callosic wall. This type of structure is considered to be different from that of elongating sporophyte tissue cells which are enclosed by a wall containing layers of cellulose microfibrils.
Calcium ions are required for pollen tube growth and, in at least some species, act as a chemotropic agent. High concentrations of calcium ions in the external medium inhibit growth. Pollen tubes contain some calcium ions bound to the cell wall and larger amounts located intracellularly, which enter the tube at the tip. This intracellular calcium is present as ions that exist freely within the cytoplasmic Matrix and as ions bound to membrane systems. The highest concentrations in both of these pools are found at the tip and in both they decline towards the base.
The structure of the tip and the activity involved in providing components for plasma membrane and Wall assembly provide a basis for considering possible mechanisms of tip growth. Two hypotheses to account for the regulation of tip extension are considered, cell wall control and cytoskeletal control. In the cell wall hypothesis, control depends on an interaction between internal turgor pressure and a plastic cell wall. The mechanical properties of the wall are assumed to be partly dependent on the availability of external calcium ions to crosslink acidic pectin chains. According to this hypothesis, high external calcium ion concentrations cause cessation of tip growth due to increased mechanical resistance of the tip wall. Various observations on plant cell-wall interactions with calcium ions and on experimentally-treated pollen tubes provide evidence that does not support this hypothesis. The cytoskeletal control hypothesis of tip growth depends on the internal tip cytoskeleton to contain the tube tip cytoplasm against the internal turgor pressure during cell wall assembly. The activities and mechanical properties of the cytoskeleton are assumed to depend on the availability of external calcium ions. High external concentrations are believed to cause a state of rigor in the cytoskeleton and hence a cessation of tip growth. Some experimental evidence is presented which suggests that the effects of excess calcium ions are on intracellular processes, and not extracellular ones. The mitochondrial zone behind the tip is believed to maintain the tip calcium ion concentration at an optimal level for growth. Some comparisons are made between tip growth in pollen tubes and that in other tip growing cells.