It has been hypothesized by Barker that starfish brachiolaria larvae initiate metamorphosis by sensing of metamorphic inducing factor(s) with neural cells within the adhesive papillae on their brachiolar arms. We present evidence supporting Barker's hypothesis using brachiolaria larvae of the two species, Asterina pectinifera and Asterias amurensis. Brachiolaria larvae of these two species underwent metamorphosis in response to pebbles from aquaria in which adults were kept. Time-lapse analysis of A. pectinifera indicated that the pebbles were explored with adhesive papillae prior to establishment of a stable attachment for metamorphosis. Microsurgical dissections, which removed adhesive papillae, resulted in failure of the brachiolaria larvae to respond to the pebbles, but other organs such as the lateral ganglia, the oral ganglion, the adhesive disk or the adult rudiment were not required. Immunohistochemical analysis with a neuron-specific monoclonal antibody and transmission electron microscopy revealed that the adhesive papillae contained neural cells that project their processes towards the external surface of the adhesive papillae and they therefore qualify as sensory neural cells.
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