Members of the mammalian rab family of GTPases are associated with specific subcellular compartments, where these proteins are postulated to function in vesicular transport. By screening a human umbilical vein endothelial cell library with degenerate oligonucleotide probes, we have isolated a 1.6-kb cDNA clone encoding a 215-amino-acid protein belonging to the rab family of GTPases. This newly identified rab protein is 81% identical to human rab5, the canine counterpart of which has been localized to the plasma membrane and early endosomes. In light of this homology, we have named this new member of the GTPase superfamily "rab5b." Northern analysis using the rab5b cDNA as a probe revealed a 3.6-kb mRNA in a variety of cell types, including human umbilical vein endothelial cells, K562 erythroleukemia cells, U937 monoblastic cells, and HeLa cells. A fusion protein between glutathione-S-transferase (GST) and rab5b was expressed in bacteria and purified to homogeneity. The recombinant protein was shown to bind GTP and GDP. As is typical of other recombinant rab proteins, the rab5b-GST fusion protein displayed a low intrinsic rate of GTP hydrolysis (0.005/min). An antiserum to rab5b was prepared and used to determine the apparent molecular size and subcellular distribution of the protein. Western blotting with this antibody revealed a 25-kD protein in COS cells transfected with rab5b and in nontransfected HeLa cells. Indirect immunofluorescence and subcellular fractionation showed that rab5b localizes to the plasma membrane. We speculate that rab5b plays a role in vesicular trafficking at the plasma membrane in various cell types.