A combination of cDNA sequencing of the complete coding region, protein comparisons, binding site mapping, and electron microscopic imaging has permitted the formulation of a structural model of cytotactin. Cytotactin is a large extracellular matrix glycoprotein that displays a restricted tissue distribution during development. Although there appears to be a single cytotactin gene, multiple cytotactin polypeptides and mRNAs are detected in a variety of tissues. We report here the sequences and relationships of cDNAs that encode the complete amino acid sequences of two cytotactin polypeptides in chicken brain. The translated cDNA sequences agree with those obtained by direct analysis of cytotactin and fragments of the molecule. All regions of the polypeptides appear to be identical except for a 273 amino acid segment found in the larger but not in the smaller. At their amino termini, both polypeptides contain a cysteine-rich segment that probably includes those residues that link monomers into hexamers. This segment is followed by 13 epidermal growth factor-like (EGFL) repeats and then 8 consecutive segments that each resemble the type III repeats found in fibronectin. At their carboxyl termini, the polypeptides are similar to the beta and gamma chains of fibrinogen, including a calcium-binding segment. The additional sequence in the large polypeptide is inserted after the fifth type III repeat and includes three additional type III repeats. On RNA transfer blot analyses, cytotactin cDNA probes detected a 6.4-kilobase (kb) component in both brain and gizzard and larger mRNAs in both tissues, but those in gizzard were larger by about 1 kb than those in brain. A probe specific to the insert did not hybridize to the 6.4-kb mRNA in either tissue but detected the larger mRNAs in both tissues. At least a portion of the insert is thus present in both tissues, but there may be additional inserts in the gizzard mRNAs. The proposed model of cytotactin specifies the orientation of the polypeptides, the localization of interchain disulfide bonds, the structural elements constituting the thin and thick segments (EGFL repeats and type III repeats, respectively), the terminal fibrinogen-like nodular region, and the relative location of the cell-binding region.