Cyclin B, a positive regulatory subunit of the cdc2 protein kinase complex, is synthesized across the cell cycle and then rapidly degraded at the end of mitosis. Degradation of cyclin B is triggered by increased levels of active cdc2 and is required for exit from mitosis. It was shown previously that cyclin degradation is carried out by the ubiquitin system, but the components responsible for the specificity and regulation of cyclin-ubiquitin ligation have not been identified. The formation of ubiquitin-protein conjugates usually requires the sequential action of three enzymes: a ubiquitin-activating enzyme (E1), a ubiquitin-carrier protein (E2), and a ubiquitin-protein ligase (E3). In this work we employed a fractionation approach to identify the components of a clam oocyte system responsible for specific ubiquitination of cyclin and to determine which components are regulated by cdc2. Experimental conditions were established under which a fusion protein containing an amino-terminal fragment of cyclin B is ligated to ubiquitin only in extracts from M-phase but not from interphase cells. Fractionation of M-phase extracts by DEAE-cellulose and high speed centrifugation yielded three fractions that were all required for cell cycle stage-specific cyclin-ubiquitin ligation. Only one of these fractions could be replaced by a previously known enzyme of the ubiquitin system, E1. A second fraction contained a novel species of E2, termed E2-C, which acts in the ligation of ubiquitin to cyclin but not to other endogenous proteins. A third component is associated with particulate material. Whereas E2-C from either M-phase or interphase extracts is active, the particulate component is active only in M-phase. Incubation of the particulate fraction from interphase cells with the protein kinase cdc2 activates it for cyclin-ubiquitin ligation, after a lag of about 30 min. These findings suggest that the particulate fraction may contain an E3 enzyme that acts on cyclin, as well as additional factors activated by cdc2.