Analysis of cattle major histocompatibility complex (MHC) (BoLA) class I gene expression using serological and biochemical methods has demonstrated a high level of polymorphism. However, analysis of class I cDNA sequences has failed to produce conclusive evidence concerning the number and nature of expressed genes. Such information is essential for detailed studies of cattle immune responses, and to increase our understanding of the mechanisms of MHC evolution. In this study a selective breeding programme has been used to generate a number of MHC homozygous cattle expressing common serologically defined class I specificities. Detailed analysis of five class I haplotypes was carried out, with transcribed class I genes identified and characterized by cDNA cloning, sequence analysis, and transfection/expression studies. Surface expression of the gene products (on lymphocytes) was confirmed using monoclonal antibodies of defined BoLA specificity. Phylogenetic analysis of available transcribed cattle MHC class I sequences revealed complex evolutionary relationships including possible evidence for recombination. The study of individual haplotypes suggests that certain groupings of related sequences may correlate with loci, but overall it was not possible to define the origin of individual alleles using this approach. The most striking finding of this study is that none of the cattle class I genes is consistently expressed, and that in contrast to human, haplotypes differ from one another in both the number and composition of expressed classical class I genes.