The Hox cluster of the sea urchin Strongylocentrous purpuratus contains ten genes in a 500 kb span of the genome. Only two of these genes are expressed during embryogenesis, while all of eight genes tested are expressed during development of the adult body plan in the larval stage. We report the spatial expression during larval development of the five ‘posterior’ genes of the cluster: SpHox7, SpHox8, SpHox9/10, SpHox11/13a and SpHox11/13b. The five genes exhibit a dynamic, largely mesodermal program of expression. Only SpHox7 displays extensive expression within the pentameral rudiment itself. A spatially sequential and colinear arrangement of expression domains is found in the somatocoels, the paired posterior mesodermal structures that will become the adult perivisceral coeloms. No such sequential expression pattern is observed in endodermal, epidermal or neural tissues of either the larva or the presumptive juvenile sea urchin. The spatial expression patterns of the Hox genes illuminate the evolutionary process by which the pentameral echinoderm body plan emerged from a bilateral ancestor.

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