Genes of the coe (collier/olfactory/early B-cell factor) family encode Helix-Loop-Helix transcription factors that are widely conserved in metazoans and involved in many developmental processes, neurogenesis in particular. Whereas their functions during vertebrate neural tube formation have been well documented, very little is known about their expression and role during central nervous system (CNS) development in protostomes. Here we characterized the CNS expression of coe genes in the insect Drosophila melanogaster and the polychaete annelid Platynereis dumerilii, which belong to different subgroups of protostomes and show strikingly different modes of development. In the Drosophila ventral nerve cord, we found that the Collier-expressing cells form a subpopulation of interneurons with diverse molecular identities and neurotransmitter phenotypes. We also demonstrate that collier is required for the proper differentiation of some interneurons belonging to the Eve-Lateral cluster. In Platynereis dumerilii, we cloned a single coe gene, Pdu-coe, and found that it is exclusively expressed in post mitotic neural cells. Using an original technique of in silico 3D registration, we show that Pdu-coe is co-expressed with many different neuronal markers and therefore that, like in Drosophila, its expression defines a heterogeneous population of neurons with diverse molecular identities. Our detailed characterization and comparison of coe gene expression in the CNS of two distantly-related protostomes suggest conserved roles of coe genes in neuronal differentiation in this clade. As similar roles have also been observed in vertebrates, this function was probably already established in the last common ancestor of all bilaterians.