Palmitoyl-protein thioesterase (PPT) is a small glycoprotein that removes palmitate groups from cysteine residues in lipid-modified proteins. We recently reported mutations in PPT in patients with infantile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (INCL), a severe neurodegenerative disorder (J. Vesa et al., 1995, Nature 376: 584-587). INCL is characterized by the accumulation of proteolipid storage material in brain and other tissues, suggesting that the disease is a consequence of abnormal catabolism of acylated proteins. In the current paper, we report the sequence of the human PPT cDNA and the structure of the human PPT gene. The cDNA predicts a protein of 306 amino acids that contains a 25-amino-acid signal peptide, three N-linked glycosylation sites, and consensus motifs characteristic of thioesterases. Northern analysis of a human tissue blot revealed ubiquitous expression of a single 2.5-kb mRNA, with highest expression in lung, brain, and heart. The human PPT gene spans 25 kb and is composed of seven coding exons and a large eighth exon, containing the entire 3'-untranslated region of 1388 bp. An Alu repeat and promoter elements corresponding to putative binding sites for several general transcription factors were identified in the 1060 nucleotides upstream of the transcription start site. The human PPT cDNA sequence and gene structure will provide the means for the identification of further causative mutations in INCL and facilitate genetic screening in selected high-risk populations.