Extracellular superoxide dismutase (EC-SOD) is the major extracellular antioxidant enzyme. We have determined the primary structure of mouse EC-SOD by characterization of complementary DNA (cDNA) clones and by amino-acid sequence analysis of purified protein. cDNA sequence analysis indicates that mouse EC-SOD is synthesized as a 251-amino-acid precursor protein with a predicted molecular weight of 27,400 D. Amino-terminal micro sequence analysis of purified mature mouse lung EC-SOD demonstrated the sequence to begin with SSFDLADRLDPV-. These results indicate that EC-SOD as initially synthesized contains a 24-amino-acid precursor peptide, and that the mature protein is 227 amino acids in length. Computer algorithms that predict the most likely site of cotranslational signal peptidase cleavage suggest that processing will occur between amino acids 18 and 19 or 20 and 21, which implies that EC-SOD may be initially synthesized as a pre-pro-protein. Like human EC-SOD, mature mouse EC-SOD is glycosylated. The full-length mouse EC-SOD cDNA is 1,834 base pairs long and is 82% (79% for protein) identical to rat EC-SOD, but only 60% (60% for protein) identical to human EC-SOD. The mouse EC-SOD gene locus (Sod3) was mapped by interspecific backcross haplotype analysis as being 0.9 +/- 0.9 centimorgans distal to the Qdpr locus on mouse Chromosome 5, a position suggesting that the human homologue of EC-SOD will map close to the human QDPR locus (4p15.3). Of nine tissues examined by Northern blot analysis, those of the kidney and lung are by far the major tissues that express EC-SOD messenger RNA. Using in situ hybridization in the mouse lung, we demonstrate EC-SOD gene expression to be highly localized to alveolar Type II epithelial cells. These data suggest that alveolar Type II cells play a central role in mediating EC-SOD antioxidant function in the lung.