An immunoscreening strategy was used to isolate a cDNA clone encoding the binding domain for the external glycoprotein gp51 of the bovine leukemia virus (BLV). Three recombinant phages demonstrating BLV binding activity and containing 2.3-kbp cDNA inserts with identical nucleotide sequences were isolated from a lambda gt11 cDNA library of bovine kidney cells (MDBK). One clone, BLVRcp1, hybridized with a 4.8-kb mRNA from cells of bovine origin and was also found to be conserved as a single-copy gene in murine, bovine, ovine, primate, canine, feline, and porcine DNAs. The same gene is amplified in caprine DNA isolated from a BLV-induced tumor. The longest open reading frame of BLVRcp1 encodes a protein fragment of 729 amino acids with a putative receptor structure. BLVRcp1 cDNA was cloned in the eucaryotic expression vector pXT-1 and transfected into murine NIH 3T3 and human HEp-2 cells. Cells expressing BLVRcp1 mRNA became susceptible to BLV infection. BLVRcp1 has no known physiological function and has no significant homology with sequences registered in the GenBank and EMBL data libraries (31 July 1992). Expression of deleted constructs of BLVRcp1 indicates that the BLV binding region is encoded at the 5' side of the receptor clone.