The mammalian 5'-AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is related to a growing family of protein kinases in yeast and plants that are regulated by nutritional stress. We find the most prominent expressed form of the hepatic AMPK catalytic subunit (alpha 1) is distinct from the previously cloned kinase subunit (alpha 2). The alpha 1 (548 residues) and alpha 2 (552 residues) isoforms have 90% amino acid sequence identity within the catalytic core but only 61% identity elsewhere. The tissue distribution of the AMPK activity most closely parallels the low abundance 6-kilobase alpha 1 mRNA distribution and the alpha 1 immunoreactivity rather than alpha 2, with substantial amounts in kidney, liver, lung, heart, and brain. Both alpha 1 and alpha 2 isoforms are stimulated by AMP and contain noncatalytic beta and gamma subunits. The liver alpha 1 isoform accounts for approximately 94% of the enzyme activity measured using the SAMS peptide substrate. The tissue distribution of the alpha 2 immunoreactivity parallels the alpha 2 8.5-kilobase mRNA and is most prominent in skeletal muscle, heart, and liver. Isoforms of the beta and gamma subunits present in the human genome sequence reveal that the AMPK consists of a family of isoenzymes.