Quenched-flow mixing was used to characterize the kinetic behavior of the intermediate reactions of the skeletal muscle sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca-ATPase (SERCA1) at 2 and 21 degrees C. At 2 degrees C, phosphorylation of SR Ca-ATPase with 100 microM ATP labeled one-half of the catalytic sites with a biphasic time dependence [Mahaney, J. E., Froehlich, J. P., and Thomas, D. D. (1995) Biochemistry 34, 4864-4879]. Chasing the phosphoenzyme (EP) with 1.66 mM ADP 10 ms after the start of phosphorylation revealed mostly ADP-insensitive E2P (95% of EP(total)), consistent with its rapid formation from ADP-sensitive E1P. The consecutive relationship of the phosphorylated intermediates predicts a decrease in the proportion of E1P ([E1P]/[EP(total)]) with increasing phosphorylation time. Instead, after 10 ms the proportion of E1P increased and that of E2P decreased until they reached a constant 1:1 stoichiometry ([E1P]:[E2P] approximately 1). At 21 degrees C, phosphorylation displayed a transient overshoot associated with an inorganic phosphate (P(i)) burst, reflecting increased turnover of E2P at the higher temperature. The P(i) burst exceeded the decay of the EP overshoot, suggesting that rephosphorylation of the enzyme occurs before the recycling step (E2 --> E1). This behavior and the reversed order of accumulation of phosphorylated intermediates at 2 degrees C are not compatible with the conventional linear consecutive reaction mechanism: E1 + ATP --> E1.ATP --> E1P + ADP --> E2P --> E2.P(i) --> E1 + P(i). Solubilization of the Ca-ATPase into monomers using the nonionic detergent C(12)E(8) gave a pattern of phosphorylation in which E1P and E2P behave like consecutive intermediates. Kinetic modeling of the C(12)E(8)-solubilized SR Ca-ATPase showed that it behaves according to the conventional Ca-ATPase reaction mechanism, consistent with monomeric catalytic function. We conclude that the nonconforming features of native SERCA1 arise from oligomeric protein conformational interactions that constrain the subunits to a staggered or out-of-phase mode of operation.