Background: The spontaneous metamorphosis of the polychaete Capitella sp. I larvae into juveniles requires minor morphological changes, including segment formation, body elongation, and loss of cilia. In this study, we investigated changes in the expression patterns of both proteins and phosphoproteins during the transition from larvae to juveniles in this species. We used two-dimensional gel electrophoresis (2-DE) followed by multiplex fluorescent staining and MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry analysis to identify the differentially expressed proteins as well as the protein and phosphoprotein profiles of both competent larvae and juveniles.Results: Twenty-three differentially expressed proteins were identified in the two developmental stages. Expression patterns of two of those proteins were examined at the protein level by Western blot analysis while seven were further studied at the mRNA level by real-time PCR. Results showed that proteins related to cell division, cell migration, energy storage and oxidative stress were plentifully expressed in the competent larvae; in contrast, proteins involved in oxidative metabolism and transcriptional regulation were abundantly expressed in the juveniles.Conclusion: It is likely that these differentially expressed proteins are involved in regulating the larval metamorphosis process and can be used as protein markers for studying molecular mechanisms associated with larval metamorphosis in polychaetes. © 2011 Chandramouli et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.