Membrane protein phosphorylation may be a general regulatory mechanism mediating the response of cells to exogenous metabolic and physical signals. We have determined that the membrane-bound acetylcholine receptor is the major substrate phosphorylated in situ by a nearby membrane protein kinase. Moreover, these same membranes also contain phosphoprotein phosphatase activity which dephosphorylates the membrane-bound receptor. These findings suggest that reversible phosphorylation of the actylcholine receptor may be critical for receptor function at the synapse. Therefore, it is necessary to define the properties of the enzymes which mediate this phosphorylation-dephosphorylation mechanism. In this report we describe the properties of the first component of this system, the membrane-bound protein kinase in receptor-enriched membranes from the electric organ of Torpedo californica. Only ATP is effective as a phosphate donor for this cyclic AMP-independent membrane kinase; GTP does not support phosphorylation of the receptor. Both casein and histone can also be phosphorylated by the membrane protein kinase, but casein is a better substrate. Although phosphorylation of the receptor appears to be regulated by cholinergic ligands and K+, casein phosphorylation is not specifically affected by these agents. Moreover, while phosphorylation of the acetylcholine receptor is maximal in receptor=enriched membranes, casein phosphorylation is similar in all membrane fractions prepared from the electric organ. Taken together, these findings suggest that the membrane protein kinase activity in receptor-enriched membranes is similar to most other membrane kinases. Therefore, the unique characteristics of membrane-bound acetylcholine receptor phosphorylation appear to be determined by the receptor and its availability as a substrate for the membrane kinase.