Ca(2+)-activated Cl(-) channels (CaCCs) are critical to processes such as epithelial transport, membrane excitability, and signal transduction. Anoctamin, or TMEM16, is a family of 10 mammalian transmembrane proteins, 2 of which were recently shown to function as CaCCs. The functions of other family members have not been firmly established, and almost nothing is known about anoctamins in invertebrates. Therefore, we performed a phylogenetic analysis of anoctamins across the animal kingdom and examined the expression and function of anoctamins in the genetically tractable nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Phylogenetic analyses support five anoctamin clades that are at least as old as the deuterostome/protosome ancestor. This includes a branch containing two Drosophila paralogs that group with mammalian ANO1 and ANO2, the two best characterized CaCCs. We identify two anoctamins in C. elegans (ANOH-1 and ANOH-2) that are also present in basal metazoans. The anoh-1
promoter is active in amphid sensory neurons that detect external chemical and nociceptive cues. Within amphid neurons, ANOH-1::GFP fusion protein is enriched within sensory cilia. RNA interference silencing of anoh-1
reduced avoidance of steep osmotic gradients without disrupting amphid cilia development, chemotaxis, or withdrawal from noxious stimuli, suggesting that ANOH-1 functions in a sensory mode-specific manner. The anoh-2
promoter is active in mechanoreceptive neurons and the spermatheca, but loss of anoh-2
had no effect on motility or brood size. Our study indicates that at least five anoctamin duplicates are evolutionarily ancient and suggests that sensory signaling may be a basal function of the anoctamin protein family.