We report the isolation and characterization of a 1994-base-pair cDNA that encompasses the entire transcription unit of the mitochondrial 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) synthase (EC 126.96.36.199.) gene from rat. Analysis of the nucleotide sequence reveals that the cDNA encodes a polypeptide of 508 residues and 56,918-Da molecular mass. Identify of the cDNA clone isolated as mitochondrial HMG-CoA synthase was confirmed by the following criteria: (i) Amino acid residues are 65% homologous with hamster cytosolic HMG-CoA synthase. (ii) A 19-amino acid sequence probably corresponding to the catalytic site is highly homologous (90%) to that reported for chicken liver mitochondrial HMG-CoA synthase. (iii) The expression product of the cDNA in Escherichia coli has HMG-CoA synthase activity. (iv) The protein includes a sequence of 37 amino acid residues at the N terminus that is not present in the cytosolic enzyme. The predominantly basic, hydrophobic, and hydroxylated nature of the residues of this sequence suggests that it is a leader peptide to target HMG-CoA synthase inside mitochondria. These data plus the hybridization pattern in genomic Southern blot analysis, the different transcript size (2.0 kilobases versus 3.4 kilobases for the cytosolic enzyme), and the different expression pattern shown in RNA blot experiments suggest the presence of two HMG-CoA synthase genes, one for the cytosolic and another for the mitochondrial enzyme.