Although light is most commonly thought of as a visual cue, many animals possess mechanisms to detect light outside of the eye for various functions, including predator avoidance, circadian rhythms, phototaxis, and migration. Similar to C. elegans, leeches, and Drosophila larvae, we confirmed that planarians are also capable of detecting and responding to light using extraocular photoreception. We found that when either eyeless or decapitated worms were exposed to near ultraviolet (UV) light, intense wildtype photophobic behaviors were still observed. Our data also revealed that behavioral responses to green wavelengths were mediated by ocular mechanisms, whereas near UV responses were driven by extraocular mechanisms. As part of a candidate screen to uncover the genetic basis of extraocular photoreception in the planarian species Schmidtea mediterranea, we identified a potential role for a homolog of the transient receptor potential channel A1 (TRPA1) in mediating behavioral responses to extraocular light cues. RNA interference (RNAi) to Smed-TrpA resulted in worms that lacked extraocular photophobic responses to near UV light, a mechanism previously only identified in Drosophila. These data show that the planarian TRPA1 homolog is required for planarian extraocular light avoidance and may represent a potential ancestral function of this gene. TRPA1 is an evolutionarily conserved detector of temperature and chemical irritants, including reactive oxygen species that are byproducts of UV light exposure. Our results suggest that planarians possess extraocular photoreception and display an unconventional TRPA1-mediated photophobic response to near UV light.
- Received October 26, 2016.
- Accepted May 4, 2017.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd
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