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Expression of Pax258 in the gastropod statocyst: insights into the antiquity of metazoan geosensory organs


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Most animals have sensory systems that allow them to balance and orient relative to the pull of gravity. Structures responsible for these functions range from very simple statocysts found in many aquatic invertebrates to the complex inner ear of mammals. Previous studies suggest that the specialized mechanosensory structures responsible for balance in vertebrates and insects may be homologous based on the requirement and expression of group II Pax genes (i.e., Pax-2/5/8 genes). Here we report the expression of a Pax-258 gene in the statocysts and other chemosensory and mechanosensory cells during the development of the gastropod mollusk Haliotis asinina, a member of the Lophotrochozoa. Based on the phylogenetic distribution of geo-sensory systems and the consistent expression of Pax-258 in the cells that form these systems, we propose that Pax-258, along with POU-III and -IV genes, has an ancient and conserved role in the formation of structures responsible for balance and geotaxis in eumetazoans.