To study the tissue-specific expression of the heart(H)- and liver(L)-type of rat cytochrome-c oxidase subunit VIa (rCOXVIa), we have screened and sequenced the genes for the two isoforms. Both genes contain three exons and two introns, spanning 880 bp (rCOXVIa-H) and 3089 bp (rCOXVIa-L), respectively. In both genes, exon I codes for the whole leader sequence comprising 12 (rCOXVIa-H) or 26 (rCOXVIa-L) amino acids and for 12 (rCOXVIa-H) or 10 (rCOXVIa-L) amino acids of the corresponding mature protein, while the remaining amino acids for the mature proteins are encoded by exons II and III. The 5' region of the genes lack both TATA and CAAT boxes, but show a high G+C content in the early 5'-upstream region. We have identified in upstream regions and in the introns of both genes several putative binding sites associated with respiratory function, muscle gene activation and housekeeping function. In rCOXVIa-H, we identified a CCAC/Myo-D motif, known to be required for muscle-specific expression of the human myoglobin-encoding gene, which is not present in rCOXVIa-L. In addition, we have analyzed a pseudogene, showing 84% homology to the COXVIa-L cDNA sequence.