Transferrin (TF) polymorphism was investigated in a color variety of goldfish (Carassius auratus), and its molecular basis analyzed. Three TF variants (A1, A2 and B1) were identified from an inbred strain of the goldfish, of which A1 and B1 displayed a large electrophoretic difference on both native and SDS-PAGE gels. The TF cDNAs corresponding to variants A1 and B1 were cloned and sequenced from A1A1, A1B1 and B1B1 individuals, and their deduced amino acid sequences were analyzed. Substantial amino acid variation occurred between variants A1 and B1, with significant differences in peptide length, theoretical molecular weight (Mw) and isoelectric point (pI). No potential glycosylation sites were observed in the two amino acid sequences, which excluded the possibility that carbohydrate difference might cause electrophoretic variation among the TF variants. Further analysis suggested that the distinct electrophoretic mobility of the two variants A1 and B1 by SDS-PAGE resulted from their Mw difference, while the difference by the native PAGE could be explained by their pI variation. Furthermore, genomic DNA fragments containing the transferrin alleles were amplified and subjected to RFLP analysis in A1A1, A1B1 and B1B1 individuals. The data revealed characteristic banding patterns for each TF genotype, and demonstrated that the TF alleles A1 and B1 could be used as a co-dominant marker system. The initial work relating to the goldfish TF variants will benefit the understanding of the evolutionary and functional significance of TF polymorphism in fish.