Background: During larval settlement and metamorphosis, marine invertebrates undergo changes in habitat, morphology, behavior and physiology. This change between life-cycle stages is often associated with a change in diet or a transition between a non-feeding and a feeding form. How larvae regulate changes in feeding during this life-cycle transition is not well understood. Neuropeptides are known to regulate several aspects of feeding, such as food search, ingestion and digestion. The marine annelid Platynereis dumerilii has a complex life cycle with a pelagic non-feeding larval stage and a benthic feeding postlarval stage, linked by the process of settlement. The conserved neuropeptide myoinhibitory peptide (MIP) is a key regulator of larval settlement behavior in Platynereis. Whether MIP also regulates the initiation of feeding, another aspect of the pelagic-to-benthic transition in Platynereis, is currently unknown.
Results: Here, we explore the contribution of MIP to the regulation of feeding behavior in settled Platynereis postlarvae. We find that in addition to expression in the brain, MIP is expressed in the gut of developing larvae in sensory neurons that densely innervate the hindgut, the foregut, and the midgut. Activating MIP signaling by synthetic neuropeptide addition causes increased gut peristalsis and more frequent pharynx extensions leading to increased food intake. Conversely, morpholino-mediated knockdown of MIP expression inhibits feeding. In the long-term, treatment of Platynereis postlarvae with synthetic MIP increases growth rate and results in earlier cephalic metamorphosis.
Conclusions: Our results show that MIP activates ingestion and gut peristalsis in Platynereis postlarvae. MIP is expressed in enteroendocrine cells of the digestive system suggesting that following larval settlement, feeding may be initiated by a direct sensory-neurosecretory mechanism. This is similar to the mechanism by which MIP induces larval settlement. The pleiotropic roles of MIP may thus have evolved by redeploying the same signaling mechanism in different aspects of a life-cycle transition.