The N-terminal amino acid sequences and the electrophoretic mobilities of the subunits VIIa, VIIb and VIIc of cytochrome c oxidase purified from human heart were investigated and compared with those from human skeletal muscle and from bovine heart. In purified human heart cytochrome c oxidase, both so-called 'heart-type' and 'liver-type' isoforms of subunit VIIa were found. The first 30 residues of the N-terminal amino acid sequences of these 'heart-type' and 'liver-type' subunits VIIa showed nine differences. The two isoforms of subunit VIIa in human heart were present in almost equal amounts, in contrast to the situation in skeletal muscle, where the 'heart-type' subunit VIIa was predominant. Therefore, our results imply that in human heart a cytochrome c oxidase isoform pattern is present that differs from that found in skeletal muscle. Subunits VIIb and VIIc purified from human heart oxidase proved to be very similar to their bovine heart counterparts. Our direct demonstration of the presence of subunit VIIb, the sequence of which has only recently been identified in the bovine heart enzyme, suggests that human cytochrome c oxidase also contains 13 subunits. We found no evidence for the presence of different isoforms of subunit VIIc in cytochrome c oxidase from human heart and skeletal muscle. We observed clear differences in the electrophoretic mobility of the subunits VIIa,b,c between bovine and human cytochrome c oxidase. On Tricine/glycerol/SDS/polyacrylamide gels the 'heart-type' and 'liver-type' subunits VIIa present in human heart cytochrome c oxidase migrated with almost the same electrophoretic mobility. Subunit VIIb migrated only slightly faster than subunit VIIa, whereas VIIc proved to have the highest electrophoretic mobility on Tricine/SDS/glycerol/polyacrylamide gels. Our findings may have implications for the elucidation of certain tissue-specific cytochrome c oxidase deficiencies in man.