The human CD1 proteins belong to a lipid-glycolipid antigen-presenting gene family and are related in structure and function to the MHC class I molecules. Previous mapping and DNA hybridization studies have shown that five linked genes located within a cluster on human chromosome 1q22-23 encode the CD1 protein family. We have analyzed the complete genomic sequence of the human CD1 gene cluster and found that the five active genes are distributed over 175,600 nucleotides and separated by four expanded intervening genomic regions (IGRs) ranging in length between 20 and 68 kb. The IGRs are composed mostly of retroelements including five full-length L1 PA sequences and various pseudogenes. Some L1 sequences have acted as receptors for other subtypes or families of retroelements. Alu molecular clocks that have evolved during primate history are found distributed within the HLA class I duplicated segments (duplicons) but not within the duplicons of CD1. Phylogeny of the alpha3 domain of the class I-like superfamily of proteins shows that the CD1 cluster is well separated from HLA class I by a number of superfamily members including MIC (PERB11), HFE, Zn-alpha2-GP, FcRn, and MR1. Phylogenetically, the human CD1 sequences are interspersed by CD1 sequences from other mammalian species, whereas the human HLA class I sequences cluster together and are separated from the other mammalian sequences. Genomic and phylogenetic analyses support the view that the human CD1 gene copies were duplicated prior to the evolution of primates and the bulk of the HLA class I genes found in humans. In contrast to the HLA class I genomic structure, the human CD1 duplicons are smaller in size, they lack Alu clocks, and they are interrupted by IGRs at least 4 to 14 times longer than the CD1 genes themselves. The IGRs seem to have been created as "buffer zones" to protect the CD1 genes from disruption by transposable elements.