Human liver contains three isoforms (DD1, DD2 and DD4) of dihydrodiol dehydrogenase with 20alpha- or 3alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity; the dehydrogenases belong to the aldo-oxo reductase (AKR) superfamily. cDNA species encoding DD1 and DD4 have been identified. However, four cDNA species with more than 99% sequence identity have been cloned and are compatible with a partial amino acid sequence of DD2. In this study we have isolated a cDNA clone encoding DD2, which was confirmed by comparison of the properties of the recombinant and hepatic enzymes. This cDNA showed differences of one, two, four and five nucleotides from the previously reported four cDNA species for a dehydrogenase of human colon carcinoma HT29 cells, human prostatic 3alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, a human liver 3alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-like protein and chlordecone reductase-like protein respectively. Expression of mRNA species for the five similar cDNA species in 20 liver samples and 10 other different tissue samples was examined by reverse transcriptase-mediated PCR with specific primers followed by diagnostic restriction with endonucleases. All the tissues expressed only one mRNA species corresponding to the newly identified cDNA for DD2: mRNA transcripts corresponding to the other cDNA species were not detected. We suggest that the new cDNA is derived from the principal gene for DD2, which has been named AKR1C2 by a new nomenclature for the AKR superfamily. It is possible that some of the other cDNA species previously reported are rare allelic variants of this gene.