Kinesin is an ubiquitous heterotetrameric microtubule-based motor which translocates membrane-bound organelles. Since organelle motility and motor protein function can be regulated by components of signaling pathways, the ability of purified bovine brain kinesin (kinesin) to be phosphorylated and to recognize calmodulin (CaM) was tested. Extensively purified 'kinesin' was found to consist of several forms of both heavy (KHC) and light (KLC) chains. Phosphorylation of kinesin by a variety of protein kinases was examined; cAMP-dependent protein kinase (cAMP-PK) was the most active enzyme leading to the incorporation of up to 8 mol P/mol kinesin. Phosphorylation occurred predominantly on the KLCs and led to substantial acidic pI shifts. Peptide maps indicated that multiple phosphorylation sites exist on each KLC. Incubation of kinesin in vitro with protein kinase C (PKC) led to the phosphorylation of both KHCs and KLCs. In vivo phosphorylation of KHC and KLCs was demonstrated by immunoprecipitation of [32P]-labeled kinesin from cultured rat hippocampal pyramidal neurons; kinesin phosphorylation was stimulated by 8-chlorophenylthio-cAMP or 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13- acetate. Native bovine brain kinesin was shown to bind 125I-CaM by nucleotide-dependent pelleting with stable microtubules. Specific calcium- dependent binding of 125I-CaM to KLCs but not KHC was found using a ligand blotting assay. cAMP-PK phosphorylated kinesin bound 125I-CaM less well than untreated protein in both ligand blotting and microtubule-pelleting paradigms. Calcium-dependent binding of CaM to kinesin inhibited the ATPase activity of native kinesin but not of cAMP-PK phosphorylated kinesin. These results suggest that the KLCs have a regulatory function and integrate information coming from diverse signaling pathways to modulate the activity and function of kinesin.