Aberrant phosphorylation of the microtubule-associated protein tau is one of the pathological features of neuronal degeneration in Alzheimer's disease. The phosphorylation of Ser-262 within the microtubule binding region of tau is of particular interest because so far it is observed only in Alzheimer's disease (Hasegawa, M., Morishima-Kawashima, M., Takio, K., Suzuki, M., Titani, K., and Ihara, Y. (1992) J. Biol. Chem. 26, 17047-17054) and because phosphorylation of this site alone dramatically reduces the affinity for microtubules in vitro (Biernat, J., Gustke, N., Drewes, G., Mandelkow, E.-M., and Mandelkow, E. (1993) Neuron 11, 153-163). Here we describe the purification and characterization of a protein-serine kinase from brain tissue with an apparent molecular mass of 110 kDa on SDS gels. This kinase specifically phosphorylates tau on its KIGS or KCGS motifs in the repeat domain, whereas no significant phosphorylation outside this region was detected. Phosphorylation occurs mainly on Ser-262 located in the first repeat. This largely abolishes tau's binding to microtubules and makes them dynamically unstable, in contrast to other protein kinases that phosphorylate tau at or near the repeat domain. The data suggest a role for this novel kinase in cellular events involving rearrangement of the microtuble-associated proteins/microtubule arrays and their pathological degeneration in Alzheimer's disease.