1. We have synthesized two peptides, one based on the exact sequence around the unique site (Ser79) for the AMP-activated protein kinase on rat acetyl-CoA carboxylase (SSMS peptide) and another in which the serine residue corresponding to the site for cyclic-AMP-dependent protein kinase (Ser77) was replaced by alanine (SAMS peptide). 2. Both peptides were phosphorylated with similar kinetics by the AMP-activated protein kinase, but only the SSMS peptide was a substrate for cyclic-AMP-dependent protein kinase. The SAMS peptide was not phosphorylated by any of five other purified protein kinases tested. 3. The Km of AMP-activated protein kinase for the SAMS peptide is higher than that for acetyl-CoA carboxylase, but the Vmax for peptide phosphorylation is 2.5 times higher than that of its parent protein. This peptide therefore gives a convenient and sensitive assay for the AMP-activated protein kinase. 4. Acetyl-CoA-carboxylase kinase and peptide kinase activities copurify through six steps from a post-mitochondrial supernatant of rat liver, showing that the SAMS peptide is a specific substrate for the AMP-activated protein kinase in this tissue. We could not demonstrate AMP-dependence of the kinase activity in crude preparations, apparently due to endogenous AMP remaining bound to the enzyme. However, 8-bromoadenosine 5-monophosphate (Br8AMP) is a partial agonist at the allosteric (AMP) site, and inhibition by 2 mM Br8AMP can be used to test that one is measuring the AMP-stimulated form of the kinase. 5. Using this approach, we have examined the kinase activity in nine different rat tissues, plus a mouse macrophage cell line, and find that there is a correlation between tissues expressing significant levels of peptide kinase activity and those active in the synthesis or storage of lipids. 6. We also use the peptide assay to show that cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase does not activate purified AMP-activated protein kinase, and does not affect the activation of partially purified AMP-activated protein kinase by endogenous kinase kinase.