We have determined the structure of the human ferrochelatase gene after isolation and characterization of lambda phage clones mapping discrete regions of the cDNA. This gene was assigned to human chromosome 18 at region q21.3, by fluorescent in situ hybridization. The gene contains a total of 11 exons and has a minimum size of about 45 kb. The exon/intron boundary sequences conform to consensus acceptor (GTn) and donor (nAG) sequences, and the exons in the gene appear to encode functional protein domains. A major site of the transcription initiation, determined by S1 nuclease mapping, was assigned to an adenine base 89 bases upstream from the adenine base of the translation initiation ATG. The promoter region contains a potential binding site for Sp1, NF-E2 and erythroid-specific transcriptional factor GATA-1, but not a typical TATAA or CCAAT sequence. Analysis of primer extension showed that the transcription starts at the same position between hepatoma HepG2 and erythroleukemia K562 cell mRNA, thereby suggesting that there can be a single transcript in erythroid and non-erythroid cells.