Leishmania donovani and related trypanosomatid protozoa possess an externally oriented surface membrane enzyme capable of hydrolyzing both 3'-nucleotides and nucleic acids. By virtue of these activities, this 3'-nucleotidase/nuclease (3'-NT/Nu), previously shown to be analogous to fungal and plant class-I single-strand-specific nucleases, is thought to play a critical role in the salvage of purines, essential for the survival of these organisms. The 43-kDa 3'-NT/Nu was purified from L. donovani promastigotes and trypsin treated. Four of the released tryptic peptide fragments yielded amino-acid sequence information (Pept-1 to Pept-4) which provided the basis for the preparation of oligonucleotide primers used for PCR amplification of an approx. 300-bp DNA fragment. This fragment was cloned, sequenced and used to probe a genomic L. donovani cosmid library. Nucleotide sequence analysis of a 4.5-kb SmaI fragment, isolated from a cosmid clone, revealed an open reading frame (ORF) of 1434 nt encoding a 477-amino-acid protein. Pept-1 to Pept-4 were mapped onto the ORF-deduced protein sequence. Peptides corresponding to Pept-1 to Pept-4 were synthesized and used to immunize rabbits. The resulting anti-peptide antibodies recognized the 43-kDa protein on Western blots and immunoprecipitated the native 3'-nucleotidase activity from L. donovani membrane extracts. Further, the ORF-deduced protein shared significant sequence identity with the S1 and P1 fungal nucleases of Aspergillus oryzae and Penicillium citrinum, respectively. Cumulatively, these results demonstrated that the ORF corresponded to a gene for the L. donovani 3'-nucleotidase/nuclease. In Northern blots a nucleotide probe specific for the 3'-NT/Nu gene hybridized to a single 2.5-kb messenger RNA. Results of Southern blot analyses were consistent with the 3'-NT/Nu being encoded by a single copy gene. These data constitute the first report of the gene for this unique trypanosomatid surface membrane enzyme.