Abnormally phosphorylated tau is the major component of paired helical filaments found in the brains of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Therefore, the identification of kinases that phosphorylate tau is of considerable interest. A DEAE-Sepharose column resolved porcine brain extract into five tau kinase activity peaks. Among these peaks, two were completely inhibited by EGTA, indicating that these two activity peaks contained Ca2+-dependent tau kinases. One of the above two Ca2+-dependent tau kinase activity peaks also contained phosphorylase kinase activity. The tau kinase and phosphorylase kinase activities associated with this peak could not be separated from each other by Superose 12 gel filtration, hydroxylapatite, and calmodulin-agarose affinity chromatographies. Phosphorylase kinase, purified from rabbit skeletal muscle, phosphorylated tau to a stoichiometry of 2.1 mol of phosphate/mol of tau and converted tau to a species with a retarded mobility on SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. The apparent Km and kcat values for tau phosphorylation by muscle phosphorylase kinase were 6.9 microM and 47.4 min-1, respectively. As a substrate of muscle phosphorylase kinase, phosphorylase was eight times better than tau. Sequence analyses of tryptic and thermolytic phosphopeptides derived from tau phosphorylated by muscle phosphorylase kinase revealed five phosphorylation sites, Ser237, Ser262, Ser285, Ser305, and Ser352. Among these sites, Ser262 was previously shown to be phosphorylated in human tau from fetal, adult, and Alzheimer's diseased brains (Seubert, P., Mawal-Dewan, M., Barbour, R., Jakes, R., Goedert, M., Johnson, G. V. W., Litersky, J. M., Schenk, D., Lieberburg, I., Trojanowski, J. Q., and Lee, V. M. Y. (1995) J. Biol. Chem. 270, 18917-18922); and its phosphorylation abolished tau's binding to microtubules (Drewes, G., Trinczek, B., Illenberger, S., Biernat, J., Schmitt-Ulms, G., Meyer, H. E., Mandelkow, E.-M., and Mandelkow, E. (1995) J. Biol. Chem. 270, 7679-7688). Slot-blot analysis using a monoclonal antibody against muscle phosphorylase kinase and an activity assay using phosphorylase revealed that phosphorylase kinase was present in microtubules extensively purified by repeated cycles of polymerization and depolymerization. Taken together, these results suggest that in neurons, phosphorylase kinase may be one of the kinases that participate in the phosphorylation of tau.