Members of the protein kinase C (PKC) family of serine/threonine kinases play a key role in regulating the differentiation and growth of diverse cell types and, to date, the cloning of seven mammalian PKC genes encoding eight distinct isoforms has been reported. Here we describe the molecular cloning and deduced primary structure of a cDNA encoding a novel PKC isoform, termed PKC theta, which was isolated in the course of attempts to identify PKC genes that are expressed selectively in hematopoietic cells. Degenerate oligonucleotide primers corresponding to conserved sequence motifs, which distinguish the PKC family from other protein kinases, were employed in polymerase chain reactions (PCR) to amplify partial core sequences of putative PKC genes from a human peripheral blood lymphocyte-derived cDNA library. DNA sequencing of selected clones revealed several PKC-related sequences, including one that, on the basis of sequence comparison with known PKC isoforms, represented a novel PKC isoform. The complete cDNA sequence was determined by anchored PCR cloning and sequencing the entire coding sequence, using cDNA derived from a human leukemic T cell line (Jurkat). Included within this approximately 2.7-kilobase pair cDNA is an open reading frame of 2,118 nucleotides encoding a putative 82-kDa protein. The deduced primary structure contains consensus sequences characteristic of protein kinase catalytic domains and, based on its amino acid sequence and domain structure, is a member of the PKC family. PKC theta displays the highest homology to PKC delta, lacks the Ca(2+)-binding C2 domain and, thus, belongs to the subfamily of Ca(2+)-independent PKC enzymes which also includes the delta, epsilon, zeta, and eta isoforms. RNase protection assays and semiquantitative PCR analysis indicated that, although PKC theta transcripts are expressed ubiquitously, the highest levels are found in hematopoietic tissues and cell lines, including T cells and thymocytes. In contrast, the expression levels in the brain and testes are considerably lower, and no transcripts were detected in several human carcinoma cell lines. A rabbit antiserum raised against a unique (V3 domain) bacterially expressed PKC theta fragment immunoprecipitated specifically an 82-kDa protein from Jurkat cell lysates. Thus, PKC theta represents an additional member of the PKC family, and its predominant expression in hematopoietic cells suggests that it may play a role in signal transduction and growth regulatory pathways unique to these cells.