Phosphorylation of myosin II regulatory light chains (RLC) by Ca(2+)/calmodulin-dependent myosin light chain kinase (MLCK) is a critical step in the initiation of smooth muscle and non-muscle cell contraction. Post-translational modifications to MLCK down-regulate enzyme activity, suppressing RLC phosphorylation, myosin II activation, and tension development. Here we report that PAK2, a member of the Rho family of GTPase-dependent kinases, regulates isometric tension development and myosin II RLC phosphorylation in saponin permeabilized endothelial monolayers. PAK2 blunts tension development by 75% while inhibiting diphosphorylation of myosin II RLC. Cdc42-activated placenta and recombinant, constitutively active PAK2 phosphorylate MLCK in vitro with a stoichiometry of 1.71 +/- 0. 21 mol of PO(4)/mol of MLCK. This phosphorylation inhibits MLCK phosphorylation of myosin II RLC. PAK2 catalyzes MLCK phosphorylation on serine residues 439 and 991. Binding calmodulin to MLCK blocks phosphorylation of Ser-991 by PAK2. These results demonstrate that PAK2 can directly phosphorylate MLCK, inhibiting its activity and limiting the development of isometric tension.