We have described here the cloning and partial characterization of a cDNA encoding a cuticular antigen of Dirofilaria immitis. A 48-h third-stage larval D. immitis cDNA library was immunoscreened with sera raised in mice against third-stage larval cuticles (mouse anti-L3 cuticle antisera). A strongly immunoreactive clone (L3MC4) was isolated. Sequence analysis of L3MC4 showed that it was a partial length cDNA. The missing 5' end of the clone was amplified by PCR from D. immitis adult female first-strand cDNA using the nematode 22-base splice leader sequence and a L3MC4-specific antisense primer. The composite cDNA sequence comprised 616 bases (nDiL3MC4) encoding a full-length protein of 146 amino acids (DiL3MC4). GenBank analysis showed that DiL3MC4 shared some homology to an unknown C. elegans gene product (31%) at the amino acid level. However, there were no related filarial expressed sequence tags in the current GenBank database. Antibodies to recombinant DiL3MC4 (rDiL3MC4) identified a 19-kDa native antigen in the adults and in the L3 and L4 larval stages of D. immitis. In addition, the antibodies bound to the cortical layers of the L3 cuticle, as revealed by immuno-gold electron microscopy. The native protein was not detected in larval and adult excretory-secretory products. Immunoblot analysis showed that serum from a rabbit that was repeatedly injected with a small number of D. immitis third stage larvae reacted with rDiL3MC4. Thus, DiL3MC4 is a novel cuticular antigen of a filarial parasite.