The human Unp gene at 3p21.3 has sequence similarity to ubiquitin proteases and has been suggested to play a role in carcinogenesis of the lung (Gray et al., 1995). To investigate this possibility, we isolated cDNAs from several human tissue libraries and found evidence for two major isoforms, encoding proteins predicted to either contain an internal 47 amino acid segment or not. Both are functional in deubiquitination assays, and mutation of a critical conserved cysteine residue to alanine abolished activity. Unp specifies two closely-migrating transcripts whose relative abundance varies among human adult tissues. Antibodies specific to UNP confirm the presence of at least two endogenous protein isoforms of approximately 105-110 kDa in cell lysates, as predicted from the cDNA sequences. Cellular fractionation and immunocytochemistry revealed UNP expression localized primarily in the cytoplasm. When we examined a panel of lung-derived cell lines for both UNP mRNA and protein expression, we found reduced levels of UNP protein in all four small cell lung carcinoma cell lines tested. These findings directly contradict and offer alternative interpretations to a number of previously published observations on Unp.