Human adipocyte lipid-binding protein (H-ALBP) was purified from normal subcutaneous adipose tissue to greater than 98% homogeneity, utilizing a combination of acid fractionation, gel filtration, covalent chromatography on activated thiol-Sepharose 4B, and anion-exchange chromatography. Human ALBP comprised about 1% of total cytosolic protein in human adipose tissue, had a relative molecular mass of about 15 kDa, and existed as a monomer in solution. The amino terminus of H-ALBP was blocked to sequencing. When a liposome ligand delivery assay was used, H-ALBP saturably bound oleic acid with about 1 mol of ligand bound per mole of protein. Additionally, H-ALBP saturably bound retinoic acid as determined by the quenching of intrinsic tryptophan fluorescence. A full-length H-ALBP cDNA has been cloned; the sequence predicts a 649-base mRNA comprised of a 62-base 5'-noncoding region containing an 18S ribosome-binding site, a single 396-base open-reading frame, and a 191-base 3'-noncoding region. Comparative sequence analysis indicated that the 132 amino acid H-ALBP is a member of a multigene family of intracellular lipid-binding proteins and contains the consensus substrate phosphorylation sequence for tyrosyl kinases.