The alpha-isoform of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3 alpha) was inactivated by 80% towards a synthetic peptide substrate upon incubation with Mg-ATP and either MAP kinase-activated protein (MAPKAP) kinase-l or p70 S6 kinase. Inactivation by either kinase resulted from the phosphorylation of Ser-21 and was reversed by treatment with protein phosphatase 2A(1). Phosphorylation also decreased GSK3 alpha activity towards glycogen synthase, inhibitor-2 and c-jun. The specificity of GSK3 alpha was similar to GSK3 beta, but with the synthetic peptide substrate heparin stimulated the dephosphorylated form of GSK3 alpha (6-fold) more than GSK3 beta (1.8-fold). After phosphorylation, both isoforms were stimulated 15-20-fold by heparin.