Computer analysis of protein phosphorylation sites sequence revealed that transcriptional factors and viral oncoproteins are prime targets for regulation of proline-directed protein phosphorylation, suggesting an association of the proline-directed protein kinase (PDPK) family with neoplastic transformation and tumorigenesis. In this report, an immunoprecipitate activity assay of protein kinase FA/glycogen synthase kinase-3 alpha (kinase F(A)/GSK-3 alpha) (a member of PDPK family) has been optimized for human hepatoma and used to demonstrate for the first time significantly increased (P < 0.01) activity in poorly differentiated SK-Hep-1 hepatoma (24.2 +/- 2.8 units/mg) and moderately differentiated Mahlavu hepatoma (14.5 +/- 2.2 units/mg) when compared to well differentiated Hep 3B hepatoma (8.0 +/- 2.4 units/mg). Immunoblotting analysis revealed that increased activity of kinase FA/GSK-3 alpha is due to overexpression of the protein. Elevated kinase FA/GSK-3 alpha expression in human hepatoma biopsies relative to normal liver tissue was found to be even more profound. This kinase appeared to be fivefold overexpressed in well differentiated hepatoma and 13-fold overexpressed in poorly differentiated hepatoma when compared to normal liver tissue. Taken together, the results provide initial evidence that overexpression of kinase FA/GSK-3 alpha is involved in human hepatoma dedifferentiation/progression. Since kinase FA/GSK-3 alpha is a PDPK, the results further support a potential role of this kinase in human liver tumorigenesis, especially in its dedifferentiation/progression.