The vast majority of marine invertebrates spend their larval period as pelagic plankton and are exposed to various environmental cues. Here we investigated the thermotaxis behaviors of the bipinnaria larvae of the starfish, Patiria pectinifera, in association with TRPA ion channels that serve as thermal receptors in various animal species. Using a newly developed thermotaxis assay system, we observed that P. pectinifera larvae displayed positive thermotaxis toward high temperatures, including toward temperatures high enough to cause death. In parallel, we identified two TRPA genes, termed PpTRPA1 and PpTRPA basal, from this species. We examined the phylogenetic position, spatial expression, and channel properties of each PpTRPA. Our results revealed the following: (1) The two genes diverged early in animal evolution; (2) PpTRPA1 and PpTRPA basal are expressed in the ciliary band and posterior digestive tract of the larval body, respectively; and (3) PpTRPA1 is activated by heat stimulation as well as by known TRPA1 agonists. Moreover, knockdown and rescue experiments demonstrated that PpTRPA1 is involved in positive thermotaxis in P. pectinifera larvae. This is the first report to reveal that TRPA1 channels regulate the behavioral response of a marine invertebrate to temperature changes during its planktonic larval period.
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