Background. Numerous cases of predator-induced polyphenisms, in which alternate phenotypes are produced in response to extrinsic stimuli, have been reported in aquatic taxa to date. The genus Daphnia (Branchiopoda, Cladocera) provides a model experimental system for the study of the developmental mechanisms and evolutionary processes associated with predator-induced polyphenisms. In D. pulex, juveniles form neckteeth in response to predatory kairomones released by Chaoborus larvae (Insecta, Diptera). Results. Previous studies suggest that the timing of the sensitivity to kairomones in D. pulex can generally be divided into the embryonic and postembryonic developmental periods. We therefore examined which of the genes in the embryonic and first-instar juvenile stages exhibit different expression levels in the presence or absence of predator kairomones. Employing a candidate gene approach and identifying differentially-expressed genes revealed that the morphogenetic factors, Hox3, extradenticle and escargot, were up-regulated by kairomones in the postembryonic stage and may potentially be responsible for defense morph formation. In addition, the juvenile hormone pathway genes, JHAMT and Met, and the insulin signaling pathway genes, InR and IRS-1, were up-regulated in the first-instar stage. It is well known that these hormonal pathways are involved in physiological regulation following morphogenesis in many insect species. During the embryonic stage when morphotypes were determined, one of the novel genes identified by differential display was up-regulated, suggesting that this gene may be related to morphotype determination. Biological functions of the up-regulated genes are discussed in the context of defense morph formation. Conclusions. It is suggested that, following the reception of kairomone signals, the identified genes are involved in a series of defensive phenotypic alterations and the production of a defensive phenotype.
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