Characterization of immunogenic human melanoma antigens has been a major focus of tumor immunologists over the past two decades, and a broad array of antigens recognized by antibodies and T cells in the autologous host has been defined. In the present study, a melanoma library was screened by SEREX (serological analysis of cDNA expression libraries), and 43 genes were isolated, 2 of which, NY-MEL-1 and NY-MEL-3, encode novel gene products with differential tissue expression. NY-MEL-1 encodes a new rab GTP-binding protein, rab38. Among >40 rab proteins, rab38 has a unique COOH terminus which would allow posttranslational farnesylation and palmitoylation, lipid modifications normally occurring in ras proteins but not in other tab proteins. It is also the only rab gene showing a predominant mRNA expression in melanocytes, a cell-specific expression pattern likely related to melanosomal transport and docking. Northern blot analysis showed no detectable expression in other normal tissues. Consistent with this lineage specificity, rab38 mRNA is expressed in 80-90% of melanoma (17 of 19), but rarely in nonmelanocytic malignancies (1 of 16). The second novel gene isolated, NY-MEL-3, encodes a mitotic protein highly homologous to the Xenopus chromosome condensation protein XCAP-G, designated hCAP-G. Analysis of hCAP-G mRNA expression showed highest expression in the testis among normal tissues and variable expression in tumor cells, reflecting the proliferative activity in these cells. This mitosis-related expression suggests hCAP-G as a possible proliferation marker and a potential prognostic indicator in cancer. These findings provide further support that SEREX can define biologically significant molecules in cancer.