A 1.7-kilobase pair cDNA clone encoding 3-hydroxyisobutyrate dehydrogenase has been isolated by screening a rat liver lambda gt11 library with a 17-base oligonucleotide probe which corresponds to a portion of the N-terminal amino acid sequence of rabbit liver 3-hydroxyisobutyrate dehydrogenase. The cDNA contains an open reading frame of 1038 base pairs which includes an amino acid sequence that matches the N-terminal 35 amino acid sequence of rabbit 3-hydroxyisobutyrate dehydrogenase at 33 residues. The cDNA predicts a 300-amino acid mature protein with an amino acid composition and molecular weight very similar to that of rabbit liver 3-hydroxyisobutyrate dehydrogenase. Northern blot analysis of total RNA from several rat tissues shows an mRNA of approximately 2.0 kilobase pairs in each tissue. Relative mRNA levels were: kidney greater than liver = heart greater than muscle. The amino acid sequence of 3-hydroxyisobutyrate dehydrogenase shows similarity to several other pyridine nucleotide-dependent dehydrogenases. The resemblance to malate and lactate dehydrogenases suggests that the nucleotide-binding domain is located in the N-terminal region of the protein.