Tau protein, a component of Alzheimer paired helical filaments, can be phosphorylated by several kinases. Of particular interest is the phosphorylation at Ser/Thr-Pro motifs because the resulting state of tau is similar to that found in Alzheimer's disease, as judged by its immunoreactivity. This state can be mimicked by a brain extract kinase activity and by MAP kinase. We have now studied the effect of these modes of phosphorylation on the interaction between tau and microtubules. Although MAP kinase efficiently phosphorylates many Ser/Thr-Pro motifs of tau, its effect on microtubule binding is only moderate. By contrast, phosphorylation of a single residue, Ser262, has a major effect on binding. Ser262 is not phosphorylated by MAP kinase or other proline-directed kinases, but is phosphorylated by a 35/41 kd kinase in brain, whose purification is described.