Akt (also known as PKB or RAC-PK) is an intracellular serine/threonine kinase involved in regulating cell survival. Although this makes it a promising target for the discovery of drugs to treat human cancer, a complicating factor may be the role played by Akt in insulin signalling. Two human isoforms, Akt-1 and Akt-2, have been described previously and a third isoform has been identified in rats (here termed Akt-3, but also called RAC-PK-gamma or PKB-gamma). We describe the identification of the corresponding human isoform of Akt-3. The gene encoding human Akt-3 was localized to chromosome 1q43-44. The predicted protein sequence is 83% identical to human Akt-1 and 78% identical to human Akt-2, and contains a pleckstrin homology domain and a kinase domain. In contrast to the published rat Akt-3 isoform, human and mouse Akt-3 also possess a C-terminal 'tail' that contains a phosphorylation site (Ser472) thought to be involved in the activation of Akt kinases. In addition to phosphorylation of Ser472, phosphorylation of Thr305 also appears to contribute to the activation of Akt-3 because mutation of both these residues to aspartate increased the catalytic activity of Akt-3, whereas mutation to alanine inhibited activation. Akt-3 activity could be inhibited by the broad spectrum kinase inhibitor staurosporine and by the PKC inhibitor Ro 31-8220, but not by other PKC or PKA inhibitors tested. Although Akt-3 is expressed widely, it is not highly expressed in liver or skeletal muscle, suggesting that its principle function may not be in regulating insulin signalling. These observations suggest that Akt-3 is a promising target for the discovery of novel chemotherapeutic agents which do not interfere with insulin signalling.