A radioimmunoassay (RIA) is described for the detection and quantitation of prothymosin alpha (ProT alpha), and its N-terminal fragments containing as a minimum the first ten amino acid residues. This range of peptides includes thymosins alpha 1 (T alpha 1) and alpha 11 (T alpha 11). Antibodies against T alpha 1 and the tracer T alpha 1(1-10)Tyr11(125I), an analogue of the major epitope, were utilized in this RIA. 50% displacement of the ligand was observed with 1.3 pmol of T alpha 1 and 6.4 pmol of ProT alpha. The partially homologous parathymosin alpha (ParaT alpha) showed less than 2% crossreactivity with ProT A. Sephacryl S-200 gel filtration separation of the peptides of calf thymus, chicken spleen and trout spleen extracts prepared by a method eliminating proteolysis, combined with the above RIA, showed the presence of a major immunoreactive peak. Its elution volume corresponded to that of rat ProT alpha (apparent mol. weight 36,000) for both calf (37,000) and chicken (35,000) tissues. In trout it corresponded to a significantly higher molecular weight (62,000). No detectable levels of shorter fragments, including T alpha 1, were observed in any of the above species. The levels of ProT alpha-like peptides in calf thymus, chicken spleen and trout spleen were found to be 246, 8.6 and 7.7 micrograms respectively, of rat ProT alpha equivalents per gram of fresh tissue. The significance of the presence of ProT alpha-like polypeptides in vertebrate species as distant as fish and mammals, the absence of short T alpha 1-like fragments, and the relative conservation of the N-terminus as suggested by the RIA is discussed.