A proopiomelanocortin (POMC)-like hormone has been cloned and sequenced from a pituitary cDNA library of upstream migrant (prespawning) sea lamprey, Petromyzon marinus. The clone, designated LPP-1, consisted of 986 nucleotides, with an open reading frame of 277 amino acids, including a signal peptide of 22 amino acids. Like POMCs from more recently evolved vertebrates, lamprey POMC contained domains which corresponded to alpha-MSH, ACTH, and beta-endorphin. However, sequences corresponding to gamma- and beta-MSH are absent or likely nonfunctional, respectively, in this cDNA. Northern blot analyses showed low but detectable expression levels of LPP-1 in larvae and strong expression in parasitic adults and prespawning animals. These observations indicate that a recognizable POMC, distinct from proenkephalin, has an ancient lineage within subphylum Vertebrata, likely dating back to the last common ancestor of the lamprey and gnathostome lines.