The sequential epitopes on the human insulin receptor recognized by polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies were investigated using a recombinant DNA technique. Short random fragments of receptor cDNA were cloned and expressed in Escherichia coli as beta-galactosidase fusion proteins by using the expression vector pUEX1. Immunoreactive peptides were detected by colony blotting and identified by sequencing the corresponding cDNA inserts. Eleven antigenic determinants were located with rabbit antisera, nine of these being on the alpha-subunit and two on the beta-subunit of which one was intracellular. Two human autoantibodies reacted with the alpha-subunit on blots, but no sequential epitopes could be located. In the rabbit sera, antibody reacting with these linear epitopes represented a substantial fraction (approximately 50%) of antibody reacting with reduced denatured receptor on blots, but a generally smaller fraction (5-40%) of antibody reacting with solubilized native receptor. Epitope-specific subfractions of antibodies were purified by binding to an elution from bacterial fusion proteins. All of these subfractions reacted with denatured receptor on nitrocellulose blots, but only three precipitated native receptor (epitopes between amino acids 190 and 231, 654 and 669, 954 and 982) and none inhibited insulin binding. (The numbering system used in this manuscript is that of Ebina, Y., Ellis, L., Jarnagin, K., Edery, M., Graf. L., Clauser, E., Ou, J., Masiarz, F., Kan, Y. W., Goldfine, I. D., Roth, R. A., and Rutter, W. J. (1985) Cell 40, 747-758). The binding sites of two monoclonal antibodies were also determined. One of these antibodies (83-14) is insulin-mimetic, but inhibits insulin binding and its epitope on the alpha-subunit (between amino acids 469 and 592) may contribute to the insulin binding site in the folded protein. The other antibody (18-44) binds close to the N terminus of the beta-subunit (amino acids 765-770) and does not inhibit insulin binding, but does mimic insulin action. The identification of epitopes therefore provides information on receptor conformation and allows structural domains to be identified which are involved in the functional effects of different antibodies.