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Adducin is a membrane-skeletal protein which is a candidate to promote assembly of a spectrin-actin network in erythrocytes and at sites of cell-cell contact in epithelial tissues. The complete sequence of both subunits of human adducin, alpha (737 amino acids), and beta (726 amino acids) has been deduced by analysis of the cDNAs. The two subunits have strikingly conserved amino acid sequences with 49% identity and 66% similarity, suggesting evolution by gene duplication. Each adducin subunit has three distinct domains: a 39-kD NH2-terminal globular protease-resistant domain, connected by a 9-kD domain to a 33-kD COOH- terminal protease-sensitive tail comprised almost entirely of hydrophilic amino acids. The tail is responsible for the high frictional ratio of adducin noted previously, and was visualized by EM. The head domains of both adducin subunits exhibit a limited sequence similarity with the NH2-terminal actin-binding motif present in members of the spectrin superfamily and actin gelation proteins. The COOH- termini of both subunits contain an identical, highly basic stretch of 22 amino acids with sequence similarity to the MARCKS protein. Predicted sites of phosphorylation by protein kinase C include the COOH- terminus and sites at the junction of the head and tail. Northern blot analysis of mRNA from rat tissues, K562 erythroleukemia cells and reticulocytes has shown that alpha adducin is expressed in all the tissues tested as a single message size of 4 kb. In contrast, beta adducin shows tissue specific variability in size of mRNA and level of expression. A striking divergence between alpha and beta mRNAs was noted in reticulocytes, where alpha adducin mRNA is present in at least 20-fold higher levels than that of beta adducin. The beta subunit thus is a candidate to perform a limiting role in assembly of functional adducin molecules.