Oocyte maturation (meiosis re-initiation) in starfish is induced by the natural hormone 1-methyladenine (1-MeAde). Following hormonal stimulation of the oocyte, an intracellular Maturation Promoting Factor (MPF) appears in the cytoplasm which triggers nuclear envelope breakdown and maturation divisions. Microinjection of pure preparations of the catalytic subunits of protein phosphatases 1 and 2A inhibits 1-MeAde-induced maturation in a dose-dependent manner. Calmodulin-dependent protein phosphatase 2B is inefficient. Maturation induced by mimetics of 1-MeAde, such as dithiothreitol (DTT), methylglyoxal-bis (guanylhydrazone) (MGBG), 8-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (8 HETE) and arachidonic acid (AA) is also inhibited by these protein phosphatases. In all cases inhibition can be reversed by increasing the concentration of 1-MeAde or of mimetic. Alkaline phosphatase also inhibits maturation in a dose-dependent way and in a reversible manner. Microinjection of protein phosphatase is still effective when performed long after the end of the hormone-dependent period, and can even be effective a few minutes before the breakdown of the nuclear envelope. No detectable MPF activity is found in 1-MeAde-treated phosphatase-injected oocytes. However, microinjection of phosphatase 2A simultaneously with MPF (obtained from 1-MeAde-treated donors) does not result in inhibition. These results constitute direct evidence for the necessity of an elevated level of phosphorylated proteins for MPF activity and maturation. The mode of action of 1-MeAde in inducing starfish oocyte maturation is discussed in relation to protein phosphorylation.