The genes of mitochondrial and cytosolic aspartate aminotransferase of chicken were cloned and sequenced. In both genes nine exons encode the mature enzyme. The additional exon for the N-terminal presequence that directs mitochondrial aspartate aminotransferase into the mitochondria is separated by the largest intron from the rest of the gene. A comparison of the two genes of chicken with the aspartate aminotransferase genes of mouse [Tsuzuki, T., Obaru, K., Setoyama, C. & Shimada, K. (1987) J. Mol. Biol. 198, 21-31; Obaru, K., Tsuzuki, T., Setoyama, C. & Shimada, K. (1988) J. Mol. Biol. 200, 13-22] reveals closely similar structures: in the gene of both the mitochondrial and the cytosolic isoenzyme all but one intron positions are conserved in the two species and five introns out of nine are placed at the same positions in all four genes indicating that the introns were in place before the genes of the two isoenzymes diverged. The variant consensus sequence (T/C)11 T(C/T)AG at the 3' splice site of the introns of the genes for nuclear-encoded mitochondrial proteins, which had been deduced from a total of 34 introns [Juretić, N., Jaussi, R., Mattes, U. & Christen, P. (1987) Nucleic Acids Res. 15, 10,083-10,086], was confirmed by including an additional 22 introns into the comparison. The position -4 at the 3' splice site is occupied by base T in 43% of the total 56 introns and appears to be subject to a special evolutionary constraint in this particular group of genes. The following course of evolution of the aspartate aminotransferase genes is proposed. Originating from a common ancestor, the genes of the two isoenzymes intermediarily evolved in separate lineages, i.e. the ancestor eukaryotic and ancestor endosymbiontic cells. When endosymbiosis was established, part of the endosymbiontic genome, including the aspartate aminotransferase gene, was transferred to the nucleus. This process probably led to the conservation of certain splicing factors specific for nuclear-encoded mitochondrial proteins. The presequence for the mitochondrial isoenzyme was acquired by DNA rearrangement. In the eukaryotic lineage, the mitochondrial isoenzyme evolved more slowly than its cytosolic counterpart.