An in vitro system was devised for studying phosphorylation of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii axonemal proteins. Many of the polypeptides phosphorylated in this system could be identified as previously described axonemal components that are phosphorylated in vivo. The in vitro system apparently preserved the activities of diverse axonemal kinases without greatly altering the substrate specificity of the enzymes. The in vitro system was used to study the effect of calcium concentration on axonemal protein phosphorylation. Calcium has previously been demonstrated to initiate the axonemal reversal reaction of the photophobic response; the in vitro system made it possible to investigate the possibility that this calcium effect is mediated by protein phosphorylation. Calcium specifically altered the phosphorylation of only two axonemal proteins; the phosphorylation of an otherwise unidentified 85,000 Mr protein was repressed by calcium concentrations greater than or equal to 10(-6) M, while the phosphorylation of the previously identified 95,000 Mr protein b4 was stimulated by calcium at concentrations greater than 10(-6) M. Protein b4 is one of six polypeptides that are deficient in the mbo mutants, strains that do not exhibit a photophobic reversal reaction. Therefore, this calcium-stimulated phosphorylation may be involved in initiating the photophobic response. Neither calmodulin nor the C-kinase could be implicated in b4 phosphorylation. The calcium-dependent activation of the b4 kinase was not affected by several drugs that bind to and inhibit calmodulin, or by the addition of exogenous calmodulin. Activators and inhibitors of the calcium-phospholipid-dependent C kinase also had no effect on b4 phosphorylation.

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