The cell-specific expression of three actin genes from the sea urchin species Strongylocentrotus purpuratus was examined in hybrid embryos of S. purpuratus and another species, Lytechinus pictus, by in situ hybridization. The mRNAs from each of these genes displayed distinct spatial patterns of expression in late-stage hybrid embryos (constructed in either direction), being detected only in the cell lineages where they are normally found in S. purpuratus embryos (i.e. CyIIIa, only in the aboral ectoderm lineage; CyI, in the gut, oral ectoderm and some mesenchyme cells of plutei, and preferentially in the archenteron of gastrulae; M, only in two small clusters of cells near the esophagus in plutei). These results, together with our previous observation that expression of each of these genes is activated at the same stage in these hybrid embryos as in normal S. purpuratus embryos, demonstrate that the trans-acting factors which are necessary to regulate both the temporal and spatial expression of these genes are present in the hybrid embryos. Previous experiments have shown that the expression of a chimeric gene containing the CyIIIa promoter fused to a bacterial chloramphenicol actetyltransferase (CAT) gene is not confined to the correct cell lineage (aboral ectoderm) when injected into Lytechinus embryos. The conclusion from these sets of data is that the factor(s) that regulate the spatial expression of at least one of the actin genes must derive from transcription of the zygotic genome.