We report here that the human estrogen receptor (hER) overexpressed in Sf9 insect cells is phosphorylated similarly to hER from the human MCF-7 mammary carcinoma cell line. The recombinant and native hER labeled to steady-state with [32P]phosphate were purified to homogeneity using specific DNA-affinity chromatography followed by SDS-gel electrophoresis. Resolution of the hER tryptic digests by reverse phase-high performance liquid chromatography revealed that five [32P]phosphopeptides from the hER expressed in the Sf9 cells had retention times identical to five of the seven [32P]phosphopeptides from the hER in MCF-7 cells. Uniquely, a dephosphorylation of a single 32P-labeled peptide occurred in response to estradiol treatment of MCF-7 cells. In vitro protein kinase assays with the purified recombinant hER revealed that the DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK) phosphorylated the receptor and induced a decrease in the receptor's mobility as demonstrated by SDS-gel electrophoresis. In contrast, protein kinases A and C did not phosphorylate the purified recombinant hER. These results suggest that in the process of becoming transcriptionally active the estrogen receptor undergoes a dephosphorylation after estrogen-binding and subsequent phosphorylations, in part by the DNA-PK.