Cells of mating types I and II of Blepharisma japonicum interact with each other and unite in heterotypic (type I-type II) or homotypic (type I-type I, type II-type II) pairs. Heterotypic pairs undergo meiosis and other nuclear changes of conjugation, while homotypic pairs remain united for days without the nuclear changes taking place. We compared cell unions of these two kinds of pairs at the ultrastructural level. In the homotypic union, cell membranes are closely juxtaposed, separated by a distance of about 20 nm. This arrangement is interrupted in some places by vacuoles and small cytoplasmic bridges. Saccule-like structures tend to be more abundant near the united surfaces. Microtubules running at right or slightly obtuse angles with the cell surface (PACM microtubules) are characteristically present at the united region of cells. These structures are very similar to those observed in earlier stages of the heterotypic union. However, in homotypic pairs, cells unite only at the anterior half of the peristome, while in heterotypic pairs cells unite also at the posterior half of the peristome, where the cell membrane totally disappears in later stages. PACM microtubules persist for at least 18 h in homotypic unions, while they disappear within a few hours in heterotypic unions. These differences between the two kinds of cell union are discussed in relation to the initiation mechanism of meiosis and other nuclear changes of conjugation. Similarities between homotypic union and cell junctions in multicellular organisms are also discussed.

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