AU-rich sequence motifs (specifically sequences containing reiterations of AUUUA) are found in the 3' untranslated region of mammalian mRNAs encoding cytokines, adhesion molecules, and protooncogenes. Because these AU-rich elements (3'AURE) have been observed to reduce the stability and translational efficiency of transcripts that contain them, and because many of these transcripts accumulate in cells exposed to inflammatory stimuli, we reasoned that mRNAs with 3'AURE may be highly conserved and that the AURE is a marker of mRNAs that are inducible by environmental stressors. To test this hypothesis, we developed a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) strategy to isolate specifically mRNAs with 3'AURE. We first validated the effectiveness of this approach by selectively amplifying two mRNAs containing 3'AURE from interleukin 1 (IL-1)-induced human endothelial cells, then used the same primers in reverse transcriptase-PCR of sea urchin RNA, and used the radiolabeled reaction products to screen a cDNA library prepared from endotoxin-exposed sea urchin coelomocytes. We identified 124 positive clones and isolated a 1608-base-pair fragment that contains an AU-rich consensus sequence upstream from a poly(A) tail. This sea urchin transcript hybridizes with immobilized poly(A)(+)-selected RNA prepared from living coelomocytes maintained in vitro for 8.5-13 h but not with RNA prepared from freshly harvested coelomocytes. Our results provide support for the growing body of evidence that 3' AURE are both conserved and functional and indicate further that isolation and short-term in vitro culture of sea urchin coelomocytes is sufficient to induce the expression of transcripts containing 3'AURE.