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Protoplasma. 2011 Apr;248(2):425-35. doi: 10.1007/s00709-010-0173-1. Epub 2010 Jun 22.

Syncytia in plants: cell fusion in endosperm-placental syncytium formation in Utricularia (Lentibulariaceae).

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  • 1Department of Plant Cytology and Embryology, Jagiellonian University, 52 Grodzka st, 31-044, Cracow, Poland.


The syncytium formed by Utricularia is extremely unusual and perhaps unique among angiosperm syncytia. All typical plant syncytia (articulated laticifers, amoeboid tapetum, the nucellar plasmodium of river weeds) are formed only by fusion of sporophytic cells which possess the same genetic material, unlike Utricularia in which the syncytium possesses nuclei from two different sources: cells of maternal sporophytic nutritive tissue and endosperm haustorium (both maternal and paternal genetic material). How is this kind of syncytium formed and organized and is it similar to other plant syncytial structures? We used light and electron microscopy to reconstruct the step-by-step development of the Utricularia syncytia. The syncytia of Utricularia developed through heterotypic cell fusion involving the digestion of the cell wall, and finally, heterokaryotic multinucleate structures were formed, which possessed different-sized nuclei that were not regularly arranged in the cytoplasm. We showed that these syncytia were characterized by hypertrophy of nuclei, abundant endoplasmic reticulum and organelles, and the occurrence of wall ingrowths. All these characters testify to high activity and may confirm the nutritive and transport functions of the syncytium for the developing embryo. In Utricularia, the formation of the syncytium provides an economical way to redistribute cell components and release nutrients from the digested cell walls, which can now be used for the embryo, and finally to create a large surface for the exchange of nutrients between the placenta and endosperm.

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