The purple acid phosphatases and uteroferrin belong to a diverse multifunctional class of binuclear iron-containing proteins that includes haemerythrin and ribonucleotide reductase. In the pig, uteroferrin has been implicated in the delivery of iron to the foetus, but the role of the related human type 5 acid phosphatase that is principally found in resident tissue macrophages is not yet clear. To define further the function of this metalloenzyme, we have isolated and sequenced a cDNA clone for type 5 acid phosphatase and investigated expression of its gene in human tissues. The phosphatase clone contains an open reading frame of 975 bp and encodes a protein of 325 amino acids, including a signal peptide of 19 residues and two potential sites for N-glycosylation. The type 5 acid phosphatase gene mapped to the short arm of human chromosome 19 and was found to have a restriction fragment length polymorphism on digestion with XbaI. Expression of phosphatase mRNA was restricted to mononuclear phagocytes and the enzyme was induced greater than 20-fold on transformation of normal human monocytes to macrophages by culture in serum-supplemented medium. Type 5 acid phosphatase thus represents a tightly regulated system for the study of molecular events in the differentiation programme of the normal macrophage.