In the steroidogenic pathway of the adrenal cortex, 17 alpha-hydroxylase cytochrome P-450 (P-450(17 alpha)) is a major regulatory enzyme. Previous studies have shown that stimulation of 17 alpha-hydroxylase activity occurs upon treatment of bovine adrenocortical cells in culture with adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), via cAMP, due to an increase in the enzyme concentration. Alterations in the levels of this enzyme result in pronounced changes in the pattern of steroids produced, with the potent glucocorticoid cortisol, as well as the sex steroids, being products of 17 alpha-hydroxylated steroid precursors. In the present study, the identification and sequencing of two cloned DNA molecules, pB17 alpha-1 and pcD17 alpha-2, which are complementary to mRNA sequences encoding bovine adrenal cortex P-450(17 alpha), are reported. Clone pcD17 alpha-2 contains an open reading frame coding for the complete amino acid sequence of P-450(17 alpha) which consists of 509 amino acids and has a molecular weight of 57,251. By comparison to other forms of cytochrome P-450, we conclude that P-450(17 alpha) is a member of a previously unidentified family within the P-450 multigene superfamily. Single bovine and human mRNA species of approximately equal to 1850 bases in length hybridize to these clones. Regulation of the concentration of this RNA has been studied using bovine adrenocortical cells in culture. Treatment with ACTH or dibutyryl cAMP causes an increase in the content of P-450(17 alpha) RNA in as little as 2 h, and its concentration increases greater than 20-fold by 8 h. In contrast, other steroidogenic enzymes that have been studied respond more slowly to ACTH. Actinomycin D and cycloheximide block induction of P-450(17 alpha) RNA, indicating that regulation of 17 alpha-hydroxylase activity is controlled at the level of transcription and requires ongoing protein synthesis.