ZAP-70, a cytoplasmic tyrosine kinase required for T cell antigen receptor signaling, is controlled by a regulatory segment that includes a tandem SH2 unit responsible for binding to immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motifs (ITAMs). The crystal structure of autoinhibited ZAP-70 reveals that the inactive kinase domain adopts a conformation similar to that of cyclin-dependent kinases and Src kinases. The autoinhibitory mechanism of ZAP-70 is, however, distinct and involves interactions between the regulatory segment and the hinge region of the kinase domain that reduce its flexibility. Two tyrosine residues in the SH2-kinase linker that activate ZAP-70 when phosphorylated are involved in aromatic-aromatic interactions that connect the linker to the kinase domain. These interactions are inconsistent with ITAM binding, suggesting that destabilization of this autoinhibited ZAP-70 conformation is the first step in kinase activation.