We have previously found that treatment of quiescent mammalian fibroblast cells with several mitogenic factors activates in common a Ca2+-sensitive serine/threonine-specific protein kinase activity toward microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP2) [Hoshi, M., Nishida, E. and Sakai, H. (1988) J. Biol. Chem. 263, 5396-5401]. Here, we characterized the mitogen-activated MAP2 kinase activity in rat 3Y1 cells. The activated kinase activity was detected in the cytosolic fraction but not in the membrane fraction. The inhibitory effect of Ca2+ on the kinase activity was reversible. Kinetic analyses revealed that the apparent Km values of the kinase activity for MAP2 and ATP were 1.6 microM and 30 microM, respectively. Free Ca2+ at 4 microM decreased apparent Vmax values for MAP2 and ATP without changing the apparent Km values. The MAP2 kinase had an apparent molecular mass of about 40 kDa as determined by gel filtration and by sucrose density gradient centrifugation. Myelin basic protein as well as MAP2 could serve as good substrates for this kinase, but 40S ribosomal protein S6, casein, histone, phosphorylase b, protamine, tubulin, actin and tau could not. These properties of the enzyme indicate that the Ca2+-sensitive MAP2 kinase may be a previously unidentified enzyme. Down-regulation of protein kinase C by prolonged phorbol ester treatment abolished the MAP2 kinase activation by phorbol ester, but did not prevent the MAP2 kinase activation by epidermal growth factor (EGF) or fresh serum. This suggests that the Ca2+-sensitive MAP2 kinase could be activated through protein-kinase-C-dependent and -independent pathways. Activation of the MAP2 kinase occurred shortly after the addition of EGF or phorbol ester even in the presence of protein synthesis inhibitors (cycloheximide, puromycin and emetin). Moreover, treatment of the EGF- or phorbol-ester-activated MAP2 kinase with acid phosphatase inactivated the kinase activity. Thus, the MAP2 kinase may be activated through phosphorylation.