Pollen tubes lacking a pair of K+ transporters fail to target ovules in Arabidopsis.
Flowering plant reproduction requires precise delivery of the sperm cells to the ovule by a pollen tube. Guidance signals from female cells are being identified; however, how pollen responds to those cues is largely unknown. Here, we show that two predicted cation/proton exchangers (CHX) in Arabidopsis thaliana, CHX21 and CHX23, are essential for pollen tube guidance. Male fertility was unchanged in single chx21 or chx23 mutants. However, fertility was impaired in chx21 chx23 double mutant pollen. Wild-type pistils pollinated with a limited number of single and double mutant pollen producing 62% fewer seeds than those pollinated with chx23 single mutant pollen, indicating that chx21 chx23 pollen is severely compromised. Double mutant pollen grains germinated and grew tubes down the transmitting tract, but the tubes failed to turn toward ovules. Furthermore, chx21 chx23 pollen tubes failed to enter the micropyle of excised ovules. Green fluorescent protein-tagged CHX23 driven by its native promoter was localized to the endoplasmic reticulum of pollen tubes. CHX23 mediated K(+) transport, as CHX23 expression in Escherichia coli increased K(+) uptake and growth in a pH-dependent manner. We propose that by modifying localized cation balance and pH, these transporters could affect steps in signal reception and/or transduction that are critical to shifting the axis of polarity and directing pollen growth toward the ovule.