Two cDNA clones encoding a receptor for human granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (hGM-CSF-R) were isolated by expression screening of a library made from human placental mRNA. Pools of recombinant plasmid DNA were electroporated into COS cells which were then screened for their capacity to bind radioiodinated hGM-CSF using a sensitive microscopic autoradiographic approach. The cloned GM-CSF-R precursor is a 400 amino acid polypeptide (Mr 45,000) with a single transmembrane domain, a glycosylated extracellular domain and a short (54 amino acids) intracytoplasmic tail. It does not contain a tyrosine kinase domain nor show homology with members of the immunoglobulin super gene family, but does show some significant sequence homologies with receptors for several other haemopoietic growth factors, including those for interleukin-6, erythropoietin and interleukin-2 (beta-chain) and also to the prolactin receptor. When transfected into COS cells the cloned cDNA directed the expression of a GM-CSF-R showing a single class of affinity (KD = 2(-8) nM) and specificity for human GM-CSF but not interleukin-3. Messenger RNA coding for this receptor was detected in a variety of haemopoietic cells known to display hGM-CSF binding, and cross-linking experiments revealed a similar size for the glycosylated receptors in transfected COS and haemopoietic cells.