ABSTRACT Many marine larvae begin feeding within a day of fertilization, thus requiring rapid development of a nervous system to coordinate feeding activities. Here, we examine the patterning and specification of early neurogenesis in sea urchin embryos. Lineage analysis indicates that neurons arise locally in three regions of the embryo. Perturbation analyses showed that when patterning is disrupted, neurogenesis in the three regions is differentially affected, indicating distinct patterning requirements for each neural domain. Six transcription factors that function during proneural specification were identified and studied in detail. Perturbations of these proneural transcription factors showed that specification occurs differently in each neural domain prior to the Delta-Notch restriction signal. Though gene regulatory network state changes beyond the proneural restriction are largely unresolved, the data here show that the three neural regions already differ from each other significantly early in specification. Future studies that define the larval nervous system in the sea urchin must therefore separately characterize the three populations of neurons that enable the larva to feed, to navigate, and to move food particles through the gut.