The structure and physiologic role of clathrin light chain has been explored by purification of the protein from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, molecular cloning of the gene, and disruption of the chromosomal locus. The single light chain protein from yeast shares many physical properties with the mammalian light chains, in spite of considerable sequence divergence. Within the limited amino acid sequence identity between yeast and mammalian light chains (18% overall), three regions are notable. The carboxy termini of yeast light chain and mammalian light chain LCb are 39% homologous. Yeast light chain contains an amino-terminal region 45% homologous to a domain that is completely conserved among mammalian light chains. Lastly, a possible homolog of the tissue-specific insert of LCb is detected in the yeast gene. Disruption of the yeast gene (CLC1) leads to a slow-growth phenotype similar to that seen in strains that lack clathrin heavy chain. However, light chain gene deletion is not lethal to a strain that cannot sustain a heavy chain gene disruption. Light chain-deficient strains frequently give rise to variants that grow more rapidly but do not express an immunologically related light chain species. These properties suggest that clathrin light chain serves an important role in cell growth that can be compensated in light chain deficient cells.