Coiled bodies (CBs) are nuclear organelles in which splicing snRNPs concentrate. While CBs are sometimes observed in association with the nucleolar periphery, they are shown not to contain 5S or 28S rRNA or the U3 snoRNA. This argues against CBs playing a role in rRNA maturation or transport as previously suggested. We present evidence here that CBs are kinetic structures and demonstrate that the formation of snRNP-containing CBs is regulated in interphase and mitosis. The coiled body antigen, p80 coilin, was present in all cell types studied, even when CBs were not prominent. Striking changes in the formation of CBs could be induced by changes in cellular growth temperature without a concomitant change in the intracellular p80 coilin level. During mitosis, CBs disassemble, coinciding with a mitotic- specific phosphorylation of p80 coilin. Coilin is shown to be a phosphoprotein that is phosphorylated on at least two additional sites during mitosis. CBs reform in daughter nuclei after a lag period during which they are not detected. CBs are thus, dynamic nuclear organelles and we propose that cycling interactions of splicing snRNPs with CBs may be important for their participation in the processing or transport of pre-mRNA in mammalian cells.