We have cloned and characterized the temporal and spatial expression of ScCA15, a cDNA clone encoding an actin gene in the ascidian Styela clava. The partial nucleotide and derived amino acid sequences of this singlecopy gene suggest that it is a cytoskeletal actin. Northern analysis shows that ScCA15 corresponds to a 1.8-kb mRNA that is transcribed during oogenesis, during embryonic development, and in the adult. In situ hybridization shows that maternal ScCA15 mRNA is distributed uniformly in the cytoplasm of the oocyte and unfertilized egg. During the period of ooplasmic segregation following fertilization, however, ScCA15 mRNA appears to be translocated into the ectoplasm, a specialized cytoplasmic region of the egg. During the early cleavages, the ectoplasmic transcripts are partitioned to ectodermal cells in the animal hemisphere, which are precursors of the epidermis and nervous system of the larva. Maternal ScCA15 mRNA is degraded just before gastrulation and replaced by zygotic transcripts which begin to accumulate between the neurula and mid-tailbud stages. Zygotic ScCA15 mRNA accumulates primarily in the epidermal and neural cells, although lower levels of these transcripts may also be present in tail muscle cells. These results show that two mechanisms are used to concentrate ScCA15 mRNA in the ectodermal cells during development: 1) localization and differential segregation of maternal transcripts and 2) specific expression of the ScCA15 gene. ScCA15 mRNA is detected by in situ hybridization in the testes, ovaries, alimentary tract, and endostyle of adults. In the testes, ScCA15 mRNA is present in developing sperm, whereas in the ovary, these transcripts are present in the germinal epithelium and developing oocytes. In the alimentary tract, ScCA15 mRNA is confined to the gastric epithelium of the esophagus, stomach, and intestine. Since the ScCA15 gene is expressed in embryonic and adult tissues that are undergoing rapid cell division, this actin is likely to function in some aspect of cell proliferation.