A visibly distinct muscular hypertrophy (mh), commonly known as double muscling, occurs with high frequency in the Belgian Blue and Piedmontese cattle breeds. The autosomal recessive mh locus causing double-muscling condition in these cattle maps to bovine chromosome 2 within the same interval as myostatin, a member of the TGF-beta superfamily of genes. Because targeted disruption of myostatin in mice results in a muscular phenotype very similar to that seen in double-muscled cattle, we have evaluated this gene as a candidate gene for double-muscling condition by cloning the bovine myostatin cDNA and examining the expression pattern and sequence of the gene in normal and double-muscled cattle. The analysis demonstrates that the levels and timing of expression do not appear to differ between Belgian Blue and normal animals, as both classes show expression initiating during fetal development and being maintained in adult muscle. Moreover, sequence analysis reveals mutations in heavy-muscled cattle of both breeds. Belgian Blue cattle are homozygous for an 11-bp deletion in the coding region that is not detected in cDNA of any normal animals examined. This deletion results in a frame-shift mutation that removes the portion of the Myostatin protein that is most highly conserved among TGF-beta family members and that is the portion targeted for disruption in the mouse study. Piedmontese animals tested have a G-A transition in the same region that changes a cysteine residue to a tyrosine. This mutation alters one of the residues that are hallmarks of the TGF-beta family and are highly conserved during evolution and among members of the gene family. It therefore appears likely that the mh allele in these breeds involves mutation within the myostatin gene and that myostatin is a negative regulator of muscle growth in cattle as well as mice.