The ascidians Styela plicata, S. clava, and Mogula citrina are urochordates. The larvae of urochordates are considered to morphologically resemble the ancestral vertebrate. We asked whether larval and adult ascidian muscle actin sequences are nonmusclelike as in lower invertebrates, musclelike as in vertebrates, or possess characteristics of both. Nonmuscle and muscle actin cDNA clones from S. plicata were sequenced. Based on 27 diagnostic amino acids, which distinguish vertebrate muscle actin from other actins, we found that the deduced protein sequences of ascidian muscle actins exhibit similarities to both invertebrate and vertebrate muscle actins. A comparison to muscle actins from different vertebrate and invertebrate phylogenetic groups suggested that the urochordate muscle actins represent a transition from a nonmusclelike sequence to a vertebrate musclelike sequence. The ascidian adult muscle actin is more similar to skeletal actin and the larval muscle actin is more similar to cardiac actin, which indicates that the divergence of the skeletal and cardiac isoforms occurred before the emergence of urochordates. The muscle actin gene may be a powerful probe for investigating the chordate lineage.