Myxococcus xanthus contains a large family of genes encoding eukaryotic-like serinehhreonine kinases. Among them, two genes, pkn5 and pkn6, are divergently located on the chromosome and share a 46 bp promoter region between their transcription initiation sites, as determined by RNA protection. Pkn5, consisting of 380 amino acid residues, is a soluble protein in the cytoplasm, while Pkn6, consisting of 710 amino acid residues, is a transmembrane protein. Its membrane topology was determined using the Pkn6-PhoA fusion protein in Escherichia coli, which has a single transmembrane domain with the N-terminal domain in the cytoplasm and the C-terminal domain outside the cytoplasmic membrane. Both proteins, when expressed in E. coli, were autophosphorylated: Pkn5 only at Ser, and Pkn6 at both Ser and Thr. In M. xanthus, both genes are expressed constitutively throughout the life cycle, with slight increases at an early stage of development. Most strikingly, a pkn5-deletion strain forms fruiting bodies much faster than the wild-type strain, while a pknb-deletion strain develops slower than the wild-type strain. These results, together with the fact that the pkn5-deletion strain is able to form fruiting bodies on semi-rich media, suggest that Pkn5 and Pkn6 have reciprocal roles in M. xanthus growth and development. Furthermore, Pkn6 may be a transmembrane sensor of external signals for development, while Pkn5 is a kinase that negatively regulates M. xanthus development.