We report cloning a cDNA that encodes a novel short-chain dehydrogenase/reductase, SDR-O, conserved in mouse, human and rat. Human and mouse liver express SDR-O (short-chain dehydrogenase/reductase-orphan) mRNA intensely. The mouse embryo expresses SDR-O mRNA as early as day seven. Human SDR-O localizes on chromosome 12; mouse SDR-O localizes on chromosome 10 with CRAD1, CRAD2 and RDH4. SDR-O shares highest amino acid similarity with rat RoDH1 and mouse RDH1 (69-70%), but does not have the retinol and 3alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity of either, nor is it active as a 17beta- or 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase. Short-chain dehydrogenase/reductases catalyse the metabolism of ligands that bind with nuclear receptors: the occurrence of 'orphan' nuclear receptors may imply existence of 'orphan' SDR, suggesting that SDR-O may catalyse the metabolism of another class of nuclear receptor ligand. Alternatively, SDR-O may not have a catalytic function, but may regulate metabolism by binding substrates/products and/or by serving as a regulatory factor.