Sequences and expression patterns of newly isolated human histone H2A and H2B genes and the respective proteins were compared with previously isolated human H2A and H2B genes and proteins. Altogether, 15 human H2A genes and 17 human H2B genes have been identified. 14 of these are organized as H2A/H2B gene pairs, while one H2A gene and three H2B genes are solitary genes. Two H2A genes and two H2B genes turned outto be pseudogenes. The 13 H2A genes code for at least 6 different amino acid sequences, and the 15 H2B genes encode 11 different H2B isoforms. Each H2A/H2B gene pair is controlled by a divergent promoter spanning 300 to 330 nucleotides between the coding regions of the two genes. The highly conserved divergent H2A/H2B promoters can be classified in two groups based on the patterns of consensus sequence elements. Group I promoters contain a TATA box for each gene, two Oct-1 factor binding sites, and three CCAAT boxes. Group II promoters contain the same elements as group I promoters and an additional CCAAT box, a binding motif for E2F and adjacent a highly conserved octanucleotide (CACAGCTT) that has not been described so far. Five of the 6 gene pairs and 4 solitary genes with group I promoters are localized in the large histone gene cluster at 6p21.3-6p22, and one gene pair is located at 1q21. All group II promoter associated genes are contained within the histone gene subcluster at D6S105, which is located at a distance of about 2 Mb from the major subcluster at 6p21.3-6p22 containing histone genes with group I promoters. Almost all group II H2A genes encode identical amino acid sequences, whereas group I H2A gene products vary at several positions. Using human cell lines, we have analyzed the expression patterns of functional human H2A/H2B gene pairs organized within the two histone gene clusters on the short arm of chromosome 6. The genes show varying expression patterns in different tumor cell lines.