The 27 kDa human heat shock protein (hsp27) is encoded by a gene family of 4 members. Two genomic fragments hybridizing to cDNA encoding hsp27 have been isolated, characterized, and sequenced. One clone is a member of a cluster of three genes linked within a 14-18 kb region of the genome and encodes a transcript interrupted by two intervening sequences. A single open reading frame encodes a polypeptide of 22,300 deduced molecular weight. The 5' flanking region contains two transcription start sites and sequences homologous to the Drosophila consensus heat inducible control element. Induction of both potential transcripts follows heat shock in vivo. Accurate heat inducible transcription occurs at both start sites after injection into Xenopus oocytes. The second genomic clone is a processed pseudogene lacking promoter elements and is unlinked with the other members of the hsp27 gene family. The amino acid sequence of human hsp27 shows striking homology with mammalian alpha crystallin, and contains a region towards the carboxy terminus which shares homology with the small hsp of Drosophila and other organisms.