Planulae are simply structured larvae lacking an overt longitudinal organization. In the course of a rapid metamorphosis, however, they transform into polyps, which display striking structural patterns. Metamorphosis takes place only in response to external stimuli. Surgical removal and transplantation of larval parts reveal that external stimuli, including artificial inducers such as cesium ions, tumor promoters and diacylglycerol, act on the anterior quarter of the larva where sensory cells containing Arg-Phe-amide-like peptides are located. The external stimuli initiate the release of an internal signal, which is transmitted to the posterior end causing the successive transformation of larval into adult tissue. The transformation front moves from the anterior to the posterior quarter in 60 min. The internal signal can be released or bypassed by a transitory lowering of the Mg2+ content of the seawater. By using this procedure, or by administering an extract containing the putative internal signal substance, each isolated part of the larva can be induced to metamorphose separately. Provided there is no time for regeneration after cutting before metamorphosis is initiated, the most anterior fragment forms only stolons, the most posterior fragment forms only a head. The overt pattern of the polyp is, therefore, generated under the influence of a covert anterior-posterior prepattern of the larva.
Keywords: Coelenterates; Metamorphosis; Neuropeptides; Pattern formation.