Profilaggrin, a highly phosphorylated protein synthesized in mammalian cornified epithelia, is the precursor of filaggrin, a protein that is involved in aggregation of keratin during terminal differentiation. Possible functions for the phosphorylation include preventing premature aggregation of keratin, packing profilaggrin into a storage granule, association of other proteins with the granule, and/or regulating proteolytic processing of profilaggrin. As a first step in characterizing the phosphorylation of rat profilaggrin, tryptic peptides of filaggrin and profilaggrin were fractionated by reverse-phase HPLC and analyzed by ionspray mass spectrometry. Nine putative phosphopeptides were identified as those with masses 80 Da (or multiples of 80 Da) greater than the predicted unphosphorylated masses. The six that were phosphorylated to a high stoichiometry were analyzed further. Several multiply phosphorylated peptides underwent neutral loss of H3PO4 during collisional activation, complicating interpretation of the MS/MS spectra. In order to circumvent this problem, an alternative strategy was applied in which peptide mixtures were treated with Ba(OH)2, resulting in beta-elimination of H3PO4 and generation of dehydrated serine or threonine at the site of phosphorylation. Peptides containing dehydrated serine or threonine fragmented well, providing unequivocal identification of multiple phosphorylation sites in peptides as long as 39 amino acids. The phosphopeptides (with phosphorylated residues underlined) were GQQHSGHPQVYYYGVEETEDESDAQQGHHQQQQQQR, GGQAGSHSESEASGGQAGR, HTSRPEQSPDTAGR, GESPAGQQSPDR, EASASQSSDSEGHSGAHAGIGQGQTSTTHR, and GSSESQASDSEGHSDYSEAHTQGAHGGIQTSSQR.