Abstract: Partially purified preparations of GABAa/benzodiazepine receptor from rat brain were found to contain high levels of a protein kinase activity that phosphorylated a small number of proteins in the receptor preparations, including a 50-kilodalton (kD) phosphoprotein that comigrated on two-dimensional electrophoresis with purified, immunolabeled, and photolabeled receptor α subunit. Further evidence that the comigrating 50-kD phosphoprotein was, in fact, the receptor α subunit was obtained by peptide mapping analysis: the 50-kD phosphoprotein yielded one-dimensional peptide maps identical to those obtained from iodinated, purified α subunit. Phosphoamino acid analysis revealed that the receptor α subunit is phosphorylated on serine residues by the protein kinase activity present in receptor preparations. Preliminary characterization of the receptor-associated protein kinase activity suggested that it may be a second messenger-independent protein kinase. Protein kinase activity was unaltered by cyclic AMP, cyclic GMP, calcium plus calmodulin, calcium plus phosphatidylserine, and various inhibitors of these protein kinases. Examination of the substrate specificity of the receptor-associated protein kinase indicated that the enzyme preferred basic proteins as substrates. Endogenous phosphorylation experiments indicated that the receptor α subunit may also be phosphorylated in crude membranes by a protein kinase activity present in those membranes. As with phosphorylation of the receptor in purified preparations, its phosphorylation in crude membranes also appeared to be unaffected by activators and inhibitors of second messenger-dependent protein kinases. These findings raise the possibility that the phosphorylation of the α subunit of the GABAa/ benzodiazepine receptor by a receptor-associated protein kinase plays a role in modulating the physiological activity of the receptor in vivo.