The properties of several cDNA clones representing a family of mRNAs found in the embryonic ectoderm of Strongylocentrotus purpuratus are described. We have previously shown that these mRNAs (termed Spec for Strongylocentrotus purpuratus ectoderm) accumulate in the presumptive dorsal ectoderm of post-cleavage stage embryos and code for a group of 10 to 12 low molecular weight acidic proteins. We demonstrate here, using antibodies raised against the major Spec proteins, that the proteins are localized in the cytoplasm of dorsal ectoderm cells. Hybridization analysis and DNA sequencing show that the mRNAs coding for these proteins, although all related, can be divided into two subfamilies. Comparison of the translational reading frames of the Spec mRNAs with known protein sequences shows a significant homology with troponin C-related proteins, especially in the calcium-binding domains. We suggest that the Spec proteins are previously uncharacterized members of the troponin C superfamily.