Human inter-alpha-trypsin inhibitor is a plasma protein of Mr 180,000 which has long been described as a single polypeptide chain. However, we have previously demonstrated that it is synthesized in liver by two different mRNA populations coding for heavy or light polypeptide chains [Bourguignon, J. et al. (1983) FEBS Lett. 162, 379-383] and cDNA clones for the heavy or light chains have recently been isolated and characterized [Bourguignon, J. et. al. (1985) Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 131, 1146-1153; Salier, J.P. et al. (1987) Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 84, 8272-8276]. In the present study, we show that human poly(A)-rich RNAs hybrid-selected with various heavy-chain-encoding cDNA clones translate three different heavy chains, designated H1 (Mr 92,000), H2 (Mr 98,000) and H3 (Mr 107,000). We previously characterized two heavy-chain cDNA clones. We now report that they correspond to H1 and H2 chains. We have also determined the sequence of an additional cDNA clone which codes for H3 chain. Its insert size is 1.79 kb with a single open reading frame and a poly(A) tail. The deduced amino acid sequence of the H3 chain is highly similar to those of the H1 (54%) and H2 (44%) chains. Northern analysis of human liver poly(A)-rich RNAs with the three heavy-chain cDNAs as probes clearly identified a single major mRNA population of 3.3 +/- 0.1 kb. Chromosomal localization by in situ hybridization shows that inter-alpha-trypsin inhibitor genes are located on three different human chromosomes. The H1 and H3 genes are located in the p211-p212 region of chromosome 3, whereas the H2 gene resides in the p15 band of chromosome 10. The light-chain gene is located in the q32-q33 region of chromosome 9. These results indicate that heavy and light chains of inter-alpha-trypsin inhibitor are encoded by at least four functional genes.