From a human placental lambda gt11 cDNA library, we have isolated a cDNA clone that encodes the entire 215-residue amino acid sequence of HMG-1. Analysis of an internal sequence similarity suggests that the DNA-binding domains of HMG-1 are separated by a rather long and flexible linker segment. Southern blotting of DNA digested with BamHI indicated a highly variable number of genes (or pseudogenes) for HMG-1 in different species. Characterization of HMG-1 mRNA expression by Northern blotting showed that three mRNA species of approximately 1.0, 1.4 and 2.4 kb were expressed in all mammalian organs and cell lines examined. These included several rat organs at different stages of development. Northern analysis also suggested the occurrence of HMG-1 mRNA in an invertebrate and a plant species.