Expression of the alpha 7 integrin gene (ITGA7) is developmentally regulated during the formation of skeletal muscle. Increased levels of expression and production of isoforms containing different cytoplasmic and extracellular domains accompany myogenesis. To determine whether a single or multiple alpha 7 genes underlie the structural diversity in this alpha chain that accompanies development, we have examined the rat and human genomes by Southern blotting and in situ hybridization. Our results demonstrate that there is only one alpha 7 gene in both the rat and the human genomes. In the human, ITGA7 is present on chromosome 12q13. Phylogenetic analysis of the integrin alpha chain sequences suggests that the early integrin genes evolved in two pathways to form the I-integrins and the non-I-integrins. The I-integrin alpha chains contain an additional sequence of approximately 180 amino acids and arose as a result of an early insertion into the non-I-gene. The I-chain subfamily further evolved by duplications within the same chromosome. The non-I-integrin alpha chain genes are localized in clusters on chromosomes 2, 12, and 17, and this closely coincides with the localization of the human homeobox gene clusters. Non-I-integrin alpha chain genes appear to have evolved in parallel and in proximity to the Hox clusters. Thus, the Hox genes that underlie the design of body structure and the Integrin genes that underlie informed cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions appear to have evolved in parallel and coordinate fashions.