N-Acetylation by hepatic arylamine N-acetyltransferase (NAT, EC 188.8.131.52) is a major route in the metabolism and detoxification of numerous drugs and foreign chemicals. NAT is the target of a common genetic polymorphism of clinical relevance in human populations. We have used our recently isolated rabbit cDNA rnat to clone three human NAT genes from human leukocyte DNA. None of the three genomic coding sequences was interrupted by introns. Two genes, designated NAT1 and NAT2, each possessed open reading frames of 870 bp. Both genes have been assigned to human chromosome 8, pter-q11. Following transfection they were transiently expressed in monkey kidney COS-1 cells. NAT1 and NAT2 gave rise to functional NAT proteins, as judged by their NAT enzyme activity with the arylamine substrate sulfamethazine. Western blots with NAT-specific antisera detected proteins of apparent molecular weight of 33 and 31 kD in NAT1- and NAT2-transfected cultures, respectively. The product of NAT2 had an identical apparent molecular weight as that of NAT detected in human liver cytosol. The deduced amino acid sequence of NAT2 also contained 6 peptide sequences which had previously been determined from tryptic peptides of the polymorphic NAT purified from human liver. These data suggest that NAT2 encodes the polymorphic NAT protein. The third gene, NATP, had multiple deleterious mutations and did not encode a functional NAT protein; it most likely represents a pseudogene.