We previously purified a yeast protein kinase that specifically hyperphosphorylates the carboxyl-terminal repeat domain (CTD) of RNA polymerase II largest subunit and showed that this CTD kinase consists of three subunits of 58, 38, and 32 kDa. We have now cloned, sequenced, and characterized CTK1, the gene encoding the 58 kDa alpha subunit. The CTK1 gene product contains a central domain homologous to catalytic subunits of other protein kinases, notably yeast CDC28, suggesting that the 58 kDa subunit is catalytic. Cells that carry a disrupted version of the CTK1 gene lack the characterized CTD kinase activity, grow slowly and are cold-sensitive, demonstrating that the CTK1 gene product is essential for CTD kinase activity and normal growth. While ctk1 mutant cells do contain phosphorylated forms of the RNA polymerase II largest subunit, these forms differ from those found in wild type cells, implicating CTK1 as a component of the physiologically significant CTD phosphorylating machinery. As befitting an enzyme with a nuclear function, the N-terminal region of the CTK1 protein contains a nuclear targeting signal.