Cyclin-dependent, proline-directed protein kinases normally function to execute critical cell cycle transitions; abnormal expression and/or viral subversion of the positive (cyclins) and negative (Pic1) regulatory subunits may contribute to neoplastic transformation and tumorigenesis. In addition to the binding of regulatory subunits, the enzymatic activities of the cyclin-dependent kinases, Cdc2 and Cdk2, are tightly regulated by site-specific protein phosphorylation events. Recent studies have identified a critical phosphorylation site (Thr-161) located within kinase Subdomain VIII that is necessary for Cdc2 activation, and enzymatic activities capable of carrying out this heterologous phosphorylation event have been detected in both Xenopus oocytes and human somatic cells. In this report, we characterize by molecular cloning a human homologue of the Xenopus Cdk-activating kinase (Cak, encoded by MO15); the novel human gene is designated (HS)CAK1. While only 75% identity is observed at the nucleotide level, the deduced amino acid sequence encoded by (HS)CAK1 is approximately 87% identical to that of the Xenopus MO15 gene in corresponding regions. The catalytic domain of (HS)Cak1, defined by conserved kinase Subdomains I through XI, exhibits considerable homology with (HS)Cdc2, suggesting that this kinase cascade involves closely related enzymes. Immunological studies with anti-Cak antibodies confirm the presence of specific immunoreactivity in highly purified preparations of the human Cdc2-activating kinase. The molecular characterization of (HS)CAK1 should facilitate studies of its physiological regulation, as well as its potential utility as a target for therapeutic intervention in the treatment of proliferative disorders.