A Dictyostelium discoideum cDNA encoding an alpha-type subunit of casein kinase II was isolated, and its cDNA was used to study developmental expression of casein kinase II during the Dictyostelium life cycle. The 1.3-kb cDNA insert contained an open reading frame of 337 amino acids (M(r) 39,900). The deduced amino acid sequence has high homology with those of casein kinase II alpha subunits from other species. Genomic Southern blot analysis suggested that there is a single gene encoding casein kinase II alpha subunit in D. discoideum. Northern (RNA) blot analysis showed that the casein kinase II alpha-subunit gene is expressed constitutively as a 1.9-kb mRNA throughout vegetative growth and multicellular development. Casein kinase purified from normal vegetative cells contained a major protein band of approximately 36 kDa, which was recognized by antisera raised against rat testis casein kinase II. Comparison of the in vitro transcription/translation product of the alpha-subunit cDNA clone and the purified 36-kDa protein by partial proteolysis indicated that the isolated cDNA clone encodes the Dictyostelium casein kinase II alpha subunit. No protein corresponding to a beta subunit was detected in purified casein kinase. Immunoblot analysis using anti-rat casein kinase II sera showed that the alpha subunit of casein kinase II is expressed constitutively like its mRNA during the life cycle of D. discoideum. Casein kinase II activity measured by using a specific peptide substrate paralleled the level of alpha subunit detected by immunoblotting during the life cycle, with a maximum variation of approximately 2-fold. We were unable to obtain disruptants of the casein kinase II alpha gene, suggesting that there is a single casein kinase II alpha gene, which is essential for vegetative growth of D. discoideum.