The spatial distribution of RNA sequences during early development of the ascidian, Styela plicata, was determined by in situ hybridization with poly(U) and cloned DNA probes. Styela eggs and embryos contain three colored cytoplasmic regions of specific morphogenetic fates, the ectoplasm, endoplasm, and myoplasm. These cytoplasmic regions participate in ooplasmic segregation after fertilization and are distributed to different cell lineages during early embryogenesis. n situ hybridization with poly(U) suggests that poly(A)+RNA is unevenly distributed in eggs and embryos, with about 45% in the ectoplasm, 50% in the endoplasm, and only 5% in the myoplasm. In situ hybridization with a histone DNA probe showed that histone RNA sequences were not localized in eggs or embryos and distributed between the three cytoplasmic regions according to their volumes. In situ hybridization with an actin DNA probe showed actin RNA was localized in the myoplasm and ectoplasm of eggs and embryos with about 45% present in the myoplasm, 40% in the ectoplasm, and only 15% in the endoplasm. These results suggest that a large proportion of the egg actin mRNA is localized in the myoplasm, participates in ooplasmic segregation after fertilization, and is differentially distributed to the mesodermal cell lineages during embryogenesis. Analysis of the translation products of egg mRNA suggests that the localized mRNA codes for a cytoplasmic actin isoform.