The mechanism of micromere specification is one of the central issues in sea urchin development. In this study we have identified a sea urchin homologue of ets 1 + 2. HpEts, which is maternally expressed ubiquitously during the cleavage stage and which expression becomes restricted to the skeletogenic primary mesenchyme cells (PMC) after the hatching blastula stage. The overexpression of HpEts by mRNA injection into fertilized eggs alters the cell fate of non-PMC to migratory PMC. HpEts induces the expression of a PMC-specific spicule matrix protein, SM50, but suppresses of aboral ectoderm-specific arylsulfatase and endoderm-specific HpEndo16. The overexpression of dominant negative delta HpEts which lacks the N terminal domain, in contrast, specifically represses SM50 expression and development of the spicule. In the upstream region of the SM50 gene there exists an ets binding site that functions as a positive cis-regulatory element. The results suggest that HpEts plays a key role in the differentiation of PMCs in sea urchin embryogenesis.