Specific models of vascular permeability are critically dependent on myosin light chain phosphorylation, a reaction catalyzed by a novel high molecular-weight (214 kD) Ca2+/calmodulin (CaM)-dependent myosin light chain kinase (MLCK) isoform recently cloned in human endothelium (Am. J. Respir. Cell Mol. Biol., 1997;16:489-494). To evaluate mechanisms of endothelial cell (EC) barrier dysfunction evoked by the serine protease thrombin, we studied the regulation of the 214-kD EC MLCK isoform expressed in bovine endothelium. The EC MLCK isoform bound biotinylated CaM in a Ca2+-dependent manner and co-immunoprecipitated in a functional complex with myosin, actin, and CaM. Thrombin rapidly increased MLCK activity in concert with time-dependent translocation of the enzyme to the actin cytoskeleton. To evaluate whether EC MLCK activity was regulated by direct phosphorylation, amino acid sequence analysis identified multiple potential EC MLCK sites for Ser/Thr phosphorylation, including highly conserved phosphorylation sites for cyclic adenosine monophosphate-dependent protein kinase A (PKA) adjacent to the CaM-binding region. EC MLCK activity was attenuated by either PKA-mediated MLCK phosphorylation or inhibition of Ser/Thr phosphatase activity (fluoride or calyculin), which significantly increased MLCK phosphorylation while decreasing MLCK activity (3- to 4-fold decrease). In summary, although the EC MLCK isoform exhibits multiple features intrinsic to this family of kinases, thrombin-mediated EC contraction and barrier dysfunction requires increased EC MLCK-actin interaction and MLCK translocation to the cytoskeleton. EC MLCK activity appears to be highly dependent upon the phosphorylation status of this key contractile effector.