Developmentally regulated, tissue-specific patterns of nuclear lamin expression occur during vertebrate embryogenesis, but little is known regarding lamin ontogeny during the early development of other phyla. cDNA clones encoding a lamin from the sea urchins Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and Lytechinus variegatus have been identified, and the full coding region from the former has been sequenced. The predicted amino acid sequence indicates that this echinoderm lamin is more closely related to vertebrate B-type lamins than to dipteran fly and nematode lamina-the only other invertebrate lamina sequenced to date. Monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies to sea urchin lamin demonstrate that nuclei of unfertilized eggs and embryos exhibit relatively faint immunoreactivity until the differentiation of primary mesenchymal cells, the nuclear envelopes of which become strongly and selectively labeled by anti-lamin antibodies. Northern blots reveal stage-specific fluctuations in a single 4-kb lamin message during early development and, together with immunoblotting data, suggest that the increase in mesenchymal cell nuclear envelope immunoreactivity is due to a quantitative increase in a single type of lamin. These observations demonstrate that, similar to vertebrates, cell differentiation in invertebrates can be accompanied by a change in lamin expression patterns.