Despite the ecological significance of the relationship between reef-building corals and intracellular photosynthetic dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium, very little is known about the molecular mechanisms involved in its establishment. Indeed, microarray-based analyses point to the conclusion that host gene expression is largely or completely unresponsive during the establishment of symbiosis with a competent strain of Symbiodinium. In this study, the use of Illumina RNA-Seq technology allowed detection of a transient period of differential expression involving a small number of genes (1073 transcripts; <3% of the transcriptome) 4 h after the exposure of Acropora digitifera planulae to a competent strain of Symbiodinium (a clade B strain). This phenomenon has not previously been detected as a consequence of both the lower sensitivity of the microarray approaches used and the sampling times used. The results indicate that complex changes occur, including transient suppression of mitochondrial metabolism and protein synthesis, but are also consistent with the hypothesis that the symbiosome is a phagosome that has undergone early arrest, raising the possibility of common mechanisms in the symbiotic interactions of corals and symbiotic sea anemones with their endosymbionts.