We have prepared a monoclonal antibody, Neuro-1, that recognizes the human homolog of the chicken contactin/F11 and mouse F3 cell adhesion molecules. The Neuro-1 antigen, structurally characterized as a 135 kDa glycosylphosphatidylinositol-linked glycoprotein, was immunoaffinity purified and partially sequenced. Comparison of an internal peptide sequence to that predicted from the chicken contactin/F11, mouse F3 and human contactin (reported herein) cDNA sequence identifies the Neuro-1 antigen as human contactin. Moreover, a polyclonal antisera generated against the purified Neuro-1 antigen was immunoreactive with a fragment of human contactin expressed in bacteria. The complete coding and deduced amino acid sequences of human contactin were determined and are 86% and 95% identical to the respective mouse F3 sequences. Structural features shared with contactin/F11/F3 include six immunoglobulin type C2 and four fibronectin type III-like domains, multiple sites for asn-linked glycosylation and a COOH-terminal signal peptide presumably removed during the generation of a phosphatidylinositol cell surface linkage. The potential for glycosylation and GPI-linkage is also consistent with protein chemical studies of human contactin. Contactin mRNA expression was characterized using Northern blot analyses of human tissues and cell lines. High level expression of a single contactin transcript in adult brain, and low level expression of multiple transcripts in lung, pancreas, kidney and skeletal muscle are observed. Highly expressed multiple transcripts, similar in pattern to that of pancreas, lung, kidney and skeletal muscle, are also observed in human neuroblastoma and retinoblastoma cell lines.