The acetylcholine receptor (AChR) alpha 5 gene has been classified as a member of the AChR gene family based on sequence homology. Expression studies, however, have yet to identify a function for the alpha 5 gene product or even to demonstrate an interaction with known AChR subunits. We report here that the alpha 5 gene product is identical to the 49 kd protein previously found on immunoblots of AChRs purified from brain and ciliary ganglia. In brain the alpha 5 gene product is present both in alpha 3- and in alpha 4-based receptor subtypes, while in the ganglion it is found in an alpha 3-based receptor subtype concentrated in postsynaptic membrane. Immunoprecipitation experiments with subunit-specific monoclonal antibodies indicate that some native AChRs are likely to have at least three kinds of subunits, with two being of the alpha type. These findings support new views about the construction of AChRs in neurons.