Motilin is involved in the regulation of the fasting motility pattern in man and in dog, but may have a different role in other species. Immunoreactive motilin has been demonstrated in several species, but the sequence is mostly unknown. The aim of this study was to isolate and sequence the cDNA encoding the motilin precursor from several mammalian species and from chicken. Total RNA was isolated from the duodenal mucosa of the chicken, dog, cow and horse. In each case single stranded cDNA was synthesized. Motilin cDNA fragments were amplified by PCR, ligated into a plasmid and cloned. Clones which were positive after screening with an appropriate (32)P-labeled probe were sequenced. The 5'- and 3'-ends were determined by the rapid amplification of cDNA ends (RACE) method. Analysis of the cDNAs revealed an open reading frame coding for 115 (chicken and cow), or 117 (dog and horse) amino acids. It consists of a 25 amino acid signal peptide, motilin itself, and a 68 (chicken and cow) or 70 (dog and horse) amino acid motilin associated peptide (MAP). As in all motilin precursors already sequenced (man, monkey, pig and rabbit), an endoproteinase cleavage site is present at Lys(23)-Lys(24). Comparison of all known sequences shows considerable identity in amino acid and nucleotide sequence of the signal peptide and motilin. However, the MAPs differ not only in length but also, more strongly, in amino acid and nucleotide sequence. Our study demonstrates that the N- and C-terminal regions of the motilin precursor have evolved at different rates, which is evidence for 'mosaic evolution'.