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The annexins are a widespread family of calcium-dependent membrane-binding proteins. No common function has been identified for the family and, until recently, no crystallographic data existed for an annexin. In this paper we draw together 22 available annexin sequences consisting of 88 similar repeat units, and apply the techniques of multiple sequence alignment, pattern matching, secondary structure prediction and conservation analysis to the characterisation of the molecules. The analysis clearly shows that the repeats cluster into four distinct families and that greatest variation occurs within the repeat 3 units. Multiple alignment of the 88 repeats shows amino acids with conserved physicochemical properties at 22 positions, with only Gly at position 23 being absolutely conserved in all repeats. Secondary structure prediction techniques identify five conserved helices in each repeat unit and patterns of conserved hydrophobic amino acids are consistent with one face of a helix packing against the protein core in predicted helices a, c, d, e. Helix b is generally hydrophobic in all repeats, but contains a striking pattern of repeat-specific residue conservation at position 31, with Arg in repeats 4 and Glu in repeats 2, but unconserved amino acids in repeats 1 and 3. This suggests repeats 2 and 4 may interact via a buried salt-bridge. The loop between predicted helices a and b of repeat 3 shows features distinct from the equivalent loop in repeats 1, 2 and 4, suggesting an important structural and/or functional role for this region. No compelling evidence emerges from this study for uteroglobin and the annexins sharing similar tertiary structures, or for uteroglobin representing a derivative of a primordial one-repeat structure that underwent duplication to give the present day annexins. The analyses performed in this paper are re-evaluated in the Appendix, in the light of the recently published X-ray structure for human annexin V. The structure confirms most of the predictions and shows the power of techniques for the determination of tertiary structural information from the amino acid sequences of an aligned protein family.