The complete primary structure of a new extracellular protein associated with elastic fiber microfibrils was determined by recombinant DNA techniques. Antiserum to insoluble bovine ocular zonule protein was used to screen a lambda gt11 cDNA expression library constructed from whole chick embryo poly(A)+ RNA. The cDNAs encoding immunoreactive fusion polypeptides were then used to rescreen the library by plaque hybridization. Nucleotide sequencing of overlapping cDNA clones revealed an open translation reading frame of 1326 bases beginning at an initiation start sequence and ending at a stop codon. The contiguous cDNA sequence contains a 3'-untranslated region of 563 bases with a possible polyadenylation site 16 bases upstream from the poly(A) tail. Primer extension of chick aortic mRNA taken together with the sequence data, reveals a 5'-untranslated region of 95 bases extending upstream from the translation start site. Northern blot analyses indicated that the isolated cDNA hybridized with a 2.1-kilobase mRNA in preparations of whole chick embryo and chick embryonic aortic, heart, and muscle RNAs. The initial translation protein encoded by the cDNA is 53,932 kDa and possesses a hydrophilic amino acid composition with glutamic acid comprising 22% of the total amino acid residues. Antiserum was elicited to a synthetic peptide sequence (14 amino acids) encoded within the deduced protein primary structure. Western blots of extracted proteins from chick embryonic aortae cultured in the presence of beta-aminopropionitrile showed that the medium and a mild salt extract contained an immunoreactive protein possessing an apparent molecular mass of 58,000 whereas harsh denaturants extracted a 32,000-kDa protein. Pulse-chase experiments using radiolabeled lysine showed that the newly synthesized 58,000-kDa protein was chased into a 32,000-kDa protein within a 2-24-h period. Immunoelectron microscopy of tissue sections from chick aortae, bovine nuchal ligament, and human ocular zonules showed that the peptide-elicited antibody localized specifically to ultrastructurally definable microfibril structures.