Catecholaminergic systems in discrete regions of the brain are thought to be important in affective psychoses, learning and memory, reinforcement and sleep-wake cycle regulation. Tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) is the first enzyme in the pathway of catecholamine synthesis. Its importance is reflected in the diversity of the mechanisms that have been described which control its activity; TH levels vary both during development and as a function of the activity of the nervous system. Recently, we deduced the complete amino-acid sequence of rat TH from a complementary DNA clone encoding a functional enzyme. Here we demonstrate that, in man, TH molecules are encoded by at least three distinct messenger RNAs. The expression of these mRNAs varies in different parts of the nervous system. The sequence differences observed are confined to the 5' termini of the messengers and involve alternative splicing events. This variation has clear functional consequences for each putative form of the enzyme and could represent a novel means of regulating catecholamine levels in normal and pathological neurons.