The neural cell adhesion molecule, N-CAM, is expressed as at least three polypeptide chain, (ld, sd, and ssd chains) specified by a single gene and derived by alternative splicing and polyadenylation-site selection during RNA processing. We describe here the characterization of seven overlapping genomic phage clones reactive with N-CAM cDNA, indicating that the chicken N-CAM gene is more than 50 kilobases long. Analysis of the gene shows that there are at least 19 exons and that the coding sequences for the ld, sd, and ssd chains are assembled from 18, 17, and 15 exons, respectively. The first 14 exons appear to be common to all three chains and encode the amino-terminal portion of N-CAM, which contains five tandem homologous repeats resembling those seen in the immunoglobulin gene superfamily. In contrast to other genes containing such domains, each of these segments in N-CAM is specified by two exons. The carboxyl-terminal portion of each N-CAM chain is different as a result of the alternative use of exons. A single exon encodes the carboxyl-terminal 26 amino acids of the ssd chain and the 3' untranslated region of its mRNA, ending with a poly(A)-addition site. Two exons encode the transmembrane and cytoplasmic sequences common to the ld and sd chains, and another exon encodes the additional 261 amino acids found in the cytoplasmic domain of the ld chain. The carboxyl-terminal 21 amino acids common to the ld and sd chains and the 3' untranslated region common to their mRNAs are encoded by a single large exon of 3475 base pairs that ends with a second poly(A)-addition site. Sequences from the 13-kilobase intron that separates the exons encoding the amino-terminal and carboxyl-terminal regions of the molecule hybridize to a 2-kilobase poly(A)+ RNA transcript of unknown identity. This description of the chicken N-CAM gene provides a basis for determining the mechanisms that regulate the differential expression of the N-CAM polypeptide chains during development.