Human alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH, tiff isozyme of class I) was expressed in Escherichia coli, purified to homogeneity, and characterized regarding N-terminal processing. The expression system was obtained by ligation of a cDNA fragment corresponding to the fl-subunit of human liver alcohol dehydrogenase into the vector pKK 223-3 containing the tac promoter. The enzyme, detected by Western-blot analysis and ethanol oxidizing activity, constituted up to 3% of the total amount of protein. Recombinant ADH was separated from E. coli ADH by ion-exchange chromatography and the isolated enzyme was essentially pure as judged by SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and sequence analysis. The N-terminal sequence was identical to that of the authentic fl-subunit except that the N-terminus was non-acetylated, indicating a correct removal of the initiator methionine, but lack of further processing.