Structural analysis of the von Willebrand factor gene located on chromosome 12 is complicated by the presence of a partial unprocessed pseudogene on chromosome 22q11-13. The structures of the von Willebrand factor pseudogene and corresponding segment of the gene were determined, and methods were developed for the rapid differentiation of von Willebrand factor gene and pseudogene sequences. The pseudogene is 21-29 kilobases in length and corresponds to 12 exons (exons 23-34) of the von Willebrand factor gene. Approximately 21 kilobases of the gene and pseudogene were sequenced, including the 5' boundary of the pseudogene. The 3' boundary of the pseudogene lies within an 8-kb region corresponding to intron 34 of the gene. The presence of splice site and nonsense mutations suggests that the pseudogene cannot yield functional transcripts. The pseudogene has diverged approximately 3.1% in nucleotide sequence from the gene. This suggests a recent evolutionary origin approximately 19-29 million years ago, near the time of divergence of humans and apes from monkeys. Several repetitive sequences were identified, including 4 Alu, one Line-1, and several short simple sequence repeats. Several of these simple repeats differ in length between the gene and pseudogene and provide useful markers for distinguishing these loci. Sequence differences between the gene and pseudogene were exploited to design oligonucleotide primers for use in the polymerase chain reaction to selectivity amplify sequences corresponding to exons 23-34 from either the von Willebrand factor gene or the pseudogene. This method is useful for the analysis of gene defects in patients with von Willebrand disease, without interference from homologous sequences in the pseudogene.