We have isolated a novel variant of the Mel 1a melatonin receptor from an ovine PT cDNA library. Relative to the reported sequence for the Mel 1a melatonin receptor there are 8 changes in the DNA sequence. Only 3 of these result in amino acid substitutions, one in extracellular loop 3 and two in the carboxy-terminal tail. We have designated the novel variant of the sheep Mel 1a receptor Mel 1a(beta), and correspondingly the previously reported variant Mel 1a(alpha). As minor changes in the primary amino acid sequence of G-protein-coupled receptors can influence their functional characteristics we have accordingly characterized this novel variant of the Mel 1a melatonin receptor. This melatonin receptor displays high affinity binding and inhibits the cAMP second messenger pathway in transfected L-cells demonstrating that this receptor is fully functional. PCR analysis shows Mel 1a(beta) is present in several breeds of sheep and suggests that the Mel 1a(beta) receptor was established early in the evolution of the sheep species.