The substrate specificity of the different forms of the polycation-stimulated (PCS, type 2A) protein phosphatases and of the active catalytic subunit of the ATP, Mg-dependent (type 1) phosphatase (AMDC) was investigated, using synthetic peptides phosphorylated by either cyclic-AMP-dependent protein kinase or by casein kinase-2. The PCS phosphatases are very efficient toward the Thr(P) peptides RRAT(P)VA and RRREEET(P)EEE when compared with the Ser(P) analogues RRAS(P)VA and RRREEES(P)EEEAA. Despite their distinct sequence, both Thr(P) peptides are excellent substrates for the PCSM and PCSH1 phosphatases, being dephosphorylated faster than phosphorylase a. The slow dephosphorylation of RRAS(P)VA by the PCS phosphatases could be increased substantially by the insertion of N-terminal (Arg) basic residues. In contrast with the latter, the AMDC phosphatase shows very poor activity toward all the phosphopeptides tested, without preference for either Ser(P) or Thr(P) peptides. However, N-terminal basic residues also favor the dephosphorylation of otherwise almost inert substrates by the AMDC phosphatase. Hence, while the dephosphorylation of Thr(P) substrates by the PCS phosphatases is highly favored by the nature of the phosphorylated amino acid, phosphatase activity toward Ser(P)-containing peptides may require specific determinants in the primary structure of the phosphorylation site.