Structural features of v-kit, the oncogene of HZ4 feline sarcoma virus, suggested that this gene arose by transduction and truncation of cellular sequences. Complementary DNA cloning of the human proto-oncogene coding for a receptor tyrosine kinase confirmed this possibility: c-kit encodes a transmembrane glycoprotein that is structurally related to the receptor for macrophage growth factor (CSF-1) and the receptor for platelet-derived growth factor. The c-kit gene is widely expressed as a single, 5-kb transcript, and it is localized to human chromosome 4 and to mouse chromosome 5. A c-kit peptide antibody permitted the identification of a 145,000 dalton c-kit gene product that is inserted in the cellular plasma membrane and is capable of self-phosphorylation on tyrosine residues in both human glioblastoma cells and transfected mouse fibroblasts. Our results suggest that p145c-kit functions as a cell surface receptor for an as yet unidentified ligand. Furthermore, carboxy- and amino-terminal truncations that occurred during the viral transduction process are likely to have generated the transformation potential of v-kit.