Transcripts approximately 14.5 kilobases in length from 14 different genes that encode for dynein heavy chains have been identified in poly(A)+ RNA from sea urchin embryos. Analysis of the changes in level of these dynein transcripts in response to deciliation, together with their sequence relatedness, suggests that 11 or more of these genes encode dynein isoforms that participate in regeneration of external cilia on the embryo, whereas the single gene whose deduced sequence closely resembles that of cytoplasmic dynein in other organisms appears not to be involved in this regeneration. The four consensus motifs for phosphate binding found previously in the beta heavy chain of sea urchin dynein are present in all five additional isoforms for which extended sequences have been obtained, suggesting that these sites play a significant role in dynein function. Sequence analysis of a approximately 400 amino acid region encompassing the putative hydrolytic ATP-binding site shows that the dynein genes fall into at least six distinct classes. Most of these classes in sea urchin have a high degree of sequence identity with one of the dynein heavy chain genes identified in Drosophila, indicating that the radiation of the dynein gene family into the present classes occurred at an early stage in the evolution of eukaryotes. Evolutionary changes in cytoplasmic dynein have been more constrained than those in the axonemal dyneins.