The 1979 amino acid sequence of embryonic chicken gizzard smooth muscle myosin heavy chain (MHC) have been determined by cloning and sequencing its cDNA. Genomic Southern analysis and Northern analysis with the cDNA sequence show that gizzard MHC is encoded by a single-copy gene, and this gene is expressed in the gizzard and aorta. The encoded protein has a calculated Mr of 229 X 10(3), and can be divided into a long alpha-helical rod and a globular head. Only 32 to 33% of the amino acid residues in the rod and 48 to 49% in the head are conserved when compared with nematode or vertebrate sarcomeric MHC sequences. However, the seven residue hydrophobic periodicity, together with the 28 and 196 residue repeat of charge distribution previously described in nematode myosin rod, are all present in the gizzard myosin rod. Two of the trypsin-sensitive sites in gizzard light meromyosin have been mapped by partial peptide sequencing to 99 nm and 60 nm from the tip of the myosin tail, where these sites coincide with the two "hinges" for the 6 S/10 S transition. In the head sequence, several polypeptide segments, including the regions around the putative ATP-binding site and the reactive thiol groups, are highly conserved. These areas presumably reflect conserved structural elements important for the function of myosin. A multi-domain folding model of myosin head is proposed on the basis of the conserved sequences, information on the topography of myosin in the literature, and the predicted secondary structures. In this model, Mg2+ ATP is bound to a pocket between two opposing alpha/beta domains, while actin undergoes electrostatic interactions with lysine-rich surface loops on two other domains. The actin-myosin interactions are thought to be modulated through relative movements of the domains induced by the binding of ATP.