We examined effects of modulators of protein kinases and phosphatases on the kinetics of mouse sperm capacitation. The chlortetracycline fluorescence assay was used to monitor the process of capacitation (in terms of the appearance of the B pattern). The treatment of sperm with dibutyryl cyclic AMP (cAMP) or dibutyryl cGMP resulted in a higher percentage B pattern at various times during capacitation compared with the control. The addition of 100 microM H8 inhibited the cyclic nucleotide-dependent stimulation of capacitation. Tumor promotors, 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol 13-acetate (TPA; a stimulator of protein kinase C) and okadaic acid (an inhibitor of protein phosphatases 1 and 2A), induced a rapid appearance of the B pattern (15 min after addition) and maintained a percentage B pattern similar to that of the control in the later period of capacitation. An inhibitor of protein kinase C, staurosporine, inhibited the TPA-dependent acceleration of capacitation. Furthermore, the addition of genistein, an inhibitor of protein tyrosine kinases, resulted in a strong inhibition of capacitation. All agents tested did not affect sperm motility. These data suggest that protein phosphorylation and dephosphorylation may play regulatory roles in mediating mouse sperm capacitation.