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We have isolated a 725-bp full-length cDNA clone for the human eosinophil cationic protein (ECP). ECP is a small, basic protein found in the matrix of the eosinophil's large specific granule that has cytotoxic, helminthotoxic, and ribonuclease activity, and is a member of the ribonuclease multigene family. The cDNA sequence shows 89% sequence identity with that reported for the related granule protein, eosinophil-derived neurotoxin (EDN). The open reading frame encodes a previously unidentified 27-amino acid leader sequence preceding a 133- residue mature ECP polypeptide with a molecular mass of 15.6 kD. The encoded amino acid sequence of ECP shows 66% identity to that of EDN and 31% identity to that of human pancreatic ribonuclease, including conservation of the essential structural cysteine and cataytic lysine and histidine residues. mRNA for ECP was detected in eosinophil- enriched peripheral granulocytes and in a subclone of the promyelocytic leukemia line, HL-60, induced toward eosinophilic differentiation with IL-5. No ECP mRNA was detected in uninduced HL-60 cells, or in HL-60 cells induced toward monocytic differentiation with vitamin D3 or toward neutrophilic differentiation with DMSO. In contrast, mRNA for EDN was detected in uninduced HL-60 cells and was upregulated in HL-60 cells induced with DMSO. Despite similarities in sequence and cellular localization, these results suggest that ECP and EDN are subject to different regulatory mechanisms.