Calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (Cam kinase II) is known to desensitise epidermal growth factor receptor (HER-1) tyrosine kinase activity by a process involving phosphorylation at serines 1046/47 in the cytoplasmic tail. We have developed an experimental system to investigate phosphorylation of the related HER-2/c-erbB2 proto-oncogene utilising purified Cam kinase II and recombinant glutathione-S-transferase (GST) fusion proteins. The cDNA for rat Cam kinase II-alpha was transfected into human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 fibroblasts and the expressed protein purified to homogeneity by calmodulin-agarose affinity chromatography. A GST fusion protein comprising residues 1126-1255 of HER-2 was phosphorylated by purified Cam kinase II, in contrast to a GST protein comprising residues 1005-1125. Phosphoamino-acid analysis and site-directed mutagenesis indicated that HER-2 was phosphorylated on a single site at threonine-1172 which resides within a consensus Cam kinase II phosphorylation site (RAKT). HER-2 (threonine-1172-alanine), in the form of a ligand-inducible chimaera HER-1/2, was co-transfected into HEK-293 fibroblasts with a constitutively active form of Cam kinase II, followed by in vivo labelling of these cells with 32 P-orthophosphate. Immunoprecipitation of ligand-activated receptors followed by two-dimensional phosphopeptide mapping indicated that threonine-1172 in HER-2 is a newly identified in vivo site which can be hyper-phosphorylated by constitutively active Cam kinase II. In addition, when over-expressed in HEK-293 fibroblasts, HER-1/2 (threonine-1172-alanine) showed a defect in desensitisation and underwent a more sustained EGF-induced receptor autophosphorylation compared to wild-type HER-1/2.