Many studies have shown that hyperosmoregulation in euryhaline crabs is accompanied by enhanced Na(+)+K(+)-ATPase activity in the posterior gills, but it remains unclear whether the response is due to regulation of pre-existing enzyme or to increased gene transcription and mRNA translation. To address this question, the complete open reading frame and 3' and 5' untranslated regions of the mRNA coding for the alpha-subunit of Na(+)+K(+)-ATPase from the blue crab Callinectes sapidus were amplified by reverse transcriptase/polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and sequenced. The resulting 3828-nucleotide cDNA encodes a putative 1039-amino-acid protein with a predicted molecular mass of 115.6 kDa. Hydrophobicity analysis of the amino acid sequence indicated eight membrane-spanning regions, in agreement with previously suggested topologies. The alpha-subunit amino acid sequence is highly conserved among species, with the blue crab sequence showing 81-83 % identity to those of other arthropods and 74-77 % identity to those of vertebrate species. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis showed high levels of alpha-subunit mRNA in posterior gills 6-8 compared with anterior gills 3-5. Western blots of gill plasma membranes revealed a single Na(+)+K(+)-ATPase alpha-subunit protein band of the expected size. The posterior gills contained a much higher level of alpha-subunit protein than the anterior gills, in agreement with previous measurements of enzyme activity. Immunocytochemical analysis showed that the Na(+)+K(+)-ATPase alpha-subunit protein detected by alpha5 antibody is localized to the basolateral membrane region of gill epithelial cells. Transfer of blue crabs from 35 to 5 per thousand salinity was not accompanied by notable differences in the relative proportions of alpha-subunit mRNA and protein in the posterior gills, suggesting that the enhanced Na(+)+K(+)-ATPase enzyme activity that accompanies the hyperosmoregulatory response may result from post-translational regulatory processes.