We analyzed in detail the structure of the L-myc gene isolated from human placental DNA and characterized its expression in several small-cell lung cancer cell lines. The gene is composed of three exons and two introns spanning 6.6 kilobases in human DNA. Several distinct mRNA species are produced in all small-cell lung cancer cell lines that express L-myc. These transcripts are generated from a single gene by alternative splicing of introns 1 and 2 and by use of alternative polyadenylation signals. In some mRNAs there is a long open reading frame with a predicted translated protein of 364 residues. Amino acid sequence comparison with c-myc and N-myc demonstrated multiple discrete regions with extensive homology. In contrast, other mRNA transcripts, generated by alternative processing, could encode a truncated protein with a novel carboxy-terminal end.