In eukaryotic cells, CLS (cardiolipin synthase) is involved in the final step of cardiolipin synthesis by catalysing the transfer of a phosphatidyl residue from CDP-DAG (diacylglycerol) to PG (phosphatidylglycerol). Despite an important role of cardiolipin in regulating mitochondrial function, a gene encoding the mammalian CLS has not been identified so far. We report in the present study the identification and characterization of a human cDNA encoding the first mammalian CLS [hCLS1 (human CLS1)]. The predicted hCLS1 peptide sequence shares significant homology with the yeast and plant CLS proteins. The recombinant hCLS1 enzyme expressed in COS-7 cells catalysed efficiently the synthesis of cardiolipin in vitro using CDP-DAG and PG as substrates. Furthermore, overexpression of hCLS1 cDNA in COS-7 cells resulted in a significant increase in cardiolipin synthesis in intact COS-7 cells without any significant effects on the activity of the endogenous phosphatidylglycerophosphate synthase of the transfected COS-7 cells. Immunohistochemical analysis demonstrated that the recombinant hCLS1 protein was localized to the mitochondria when transiently expressed in COS-7 cells, which was further corroborated by results from subcellular fractionation analyses of the recombinant hCLS1 protein. Northern-blot analysis showed that the hCLS1 gene was predominantly expressed in tissues that require high levels of mitochondrial activities for energy metabolism, with the highest expression in skeletal and cardiac muscles. High levels of hCLS1 expression were also detected in liver, pancreas, kidney and small intestine, implying a functional role of hCLS1 in these tissues.