The Aurora A and B protein kinases are key players in mitotic control and the etiology of human cancer. Despite the near identity of amino acid sequence in the catalytic domain, monomeric Aurora B is 50 fold lower in activity than monomeric Aurora A, and previous studies have shown that TPX2 binding to the catalytic domain activates Aurora A but not Aurora B. Here we identify G205 in Xenopus Aurora A as a key determinant of both intrinsic activity and regulation by TPX2. Mutation of G205 in Aurora A to N, the equivalent residue in Aurora B, had no effect on autophosphorylation of the T-loop but led to a 10-fold loss of specific activity, whereas mutation of N158 in Aurora B to G caused a 350-fold increase in specific activity. G205 N Aurora A was still activated by TPX2, but protection of pT295 from dephosphorylation by protein phosphatase 1 was abolished. Structural analysis of these effects suggests that the G205 forms a pivot point in the enzyme that results in movement of the N-terminal domain glycine-rich loop closer to the ATP binding site of the enzyme and also moves the C-helix slightly closer to the activation loop. Changes in these positions are comparable to those reported for other protein kinases and demonstrate that phosphorylation of the activation loop alone is not sufficient for enzyme activation. The generation of an activated mutant of Aurora B will be important for studying its role in cell cycle control and tumorigenesis.