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The rat alpha- and bovine alpha s1-casein genes have been isolated and their 5' sequences determined. The rat alpha-, beta-, gamma- and bovine alpha s1-casein genes contain similar 5' exon arrangements in which the 5' noncoding, signal peptide and casein kinase phosphorylation sequences are each encoded by separate exons. These findings support the hypothesis that during evolution, the family of casein genes arose by a process involving exon recruitment followed by intragenic and intergenic duplication of a primordial gene. Several highly conserved regions in the first 200 base pairs of the 5' flanking DNA have been identified. Additional sequence homology extending up to 550 base pairs upstream of the CAP site has been found between the rat alpha- and bovine alpha s1-casein sequences. Unexpectedly, the 5' flanking promoter regions are conserved to a greater extent than both the entire mature coding and intron regions of these genes. These conserved 5' flanking sequences may contain potential cis regulatory elements which are responsible for the coordinate expression of the functionally-related casein genes during mammary gland development.