Members of the highly conserved and ubiquitous 14-3-3 protein family modulate a wide variety of cellular processes. To determine the evolutionary relationships among specific 14-3-3 proteins in different plant, animal, and fungal species and to initiate a predictive analysis of isoform-specific differences in light of the latest functional and structural studies of 14-3-3, multiple alignments were constructed from forty-six 14-3-3 sequences retrieved from the GenBank and SwissProt databases and a newly identified second 14-3-3 gene from Caenorhabditis elegans. The alignment revealed five highly conserved sequence blocks. Blocks 2-5 correlate well with the alpha helices 3, 5, 7, and 9 which form the proposed internal binding domain in the three-dimensional structure model of the functioning dimer. Amino acid differences within the functional and structural domains of plant and animal 14-3-3 proteins were identified which may account for functional diversity amongst isoforms. Protein phylogenic trees were constructed using both the maximum parsimony and neighbor joining methods of the PHYLIP(3.5c) package; 14-3-3 proteins from Entamoeba histolytica, an amitochondrial protozoa, were employed as an outgroup in our analysis. Epsilon isoforms from the animal lineage form a distinct grouping in both trees, which suggests an early divergence from the other animal isoforms. Epsilons were found to be more similar to yeast and plant isoforms than other animal isoforms at numerous amino acid positions, and thus epsilon may have retained functional characteristics of the ancestral protein. The known invertebrate proteins group with the nonepsilon mammalian isoforms. Most of the current 14-3-3 isoform diversity probably arose through independent duplication events after the divergence of the major eukaryotic kingdoms. Divergence of the seven mammalian isoforms beta, zeta, gamma, eta, epsilon, tau, and sigma (stratifin/HME1) occurred before the divergence of mammalian and perhaps before the divergence of vertebrate species. A possible ancestral 14-3-3 sequence is proposed.