There are some functional compatibilities between upstream and core promoter sequences for transcriptional activation in yeast, Drosophila and mammalian cells. Here we examined whether similar compatibilities exist in sea urchin embryos, and if so, whether they are dynamically regulated during early development. Two reporter plasmids, each containing a test promoter conjugated to either CFP or YFP, were concurrently introduced into embryos, and their expression patterns were studied by fluorescence microscopy. The upstream sequence of the Hemicentrotus pulcherrimus (Hp) OtxE promoter drives the expression of its own core promoter and that of Strongylocentrotus purpuratus (Sp) Spec2a in different embryonic regions, especially at the late gastrula stage. Interestingly, when the four putative transcription factor binding sites of this upstream sequence were individually mutated, the resulting sequences directed different spatiotemporal expression from the same set of two core promoters, indicating that combinations of upstream factors may determine core promoter usage in sea urchin embryos. In addition, the insertion or deletion of consensus or nonconsensus TATA sequences changed the expression profile significantly, irrespective of whether the upstream sequence was intact or mutated. Thus, the TATA sequence may serve as a primary determinant for core promoter selection in these cells.