Abstract Ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) is a potent polypeptide hormone whose actions appear to be restricted to the nervous system where it promotes survival, neurotransmitter synthesis and neurite outgrowth in certain neuronal populations. We have cloned the gene encoding human CNTF (hCNTF) and have characterized its structure and organization. The h CNTF gene appears to be a unique-copy gene with a simple genetic organization, since only a single intron interrupts the coding domain. The h CNTF gene is located on chromosome 11, as determined using human-hamster somatic cell hybrids. The CNTF protein is highly conserved in evolution. The amino acid (aa) sequences of rat and rabbit CNTF translated from cDNAs display approx. 85% homology with the deduced aa sequence encoding hCNTF.