The microtubule-associated protein tau is a developmentally regulated neuronal phosphoprotein. The phosphorylation of tau reduces its ability to bind and stabilize axonal microtubules during axonal growth. Although tau is phosphorylated by cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5) in vitro, its in vivo roles remain unclear. Here, we show that tau is phosphorylated by Cdk5/p39 during brain development, resulting in a reduction of its affinity for microtubules. The activity of Cdk5 is tightly regulated by association with its neuronal activators, p35 or p39. The p35 and p39 expression levels were investigated in the developing mouse brain; the p39 expression level was higher in embryonic hind brain and spinal cord and in postnatal cerebral cortex, whereas that of p35 was most prominent in cerebral cortex at earlier stages of development. The ability of Cdk5 to phosphorylate tau was higher when in association with p39 than in association with p35. Tau phosphorylation at Ser-202 and Thr-205 was decreased in Cdk5-/- mouse brain but not in p35-/- mouse brain, suggesting that Cdk5/p39 is responsible for the in vivo phosphorylation of tau at these sites. Our data suggest that tau phosphorylation by Cdk5 may provide the neuronal microtubules with dynamic properties in a region-specific and developmentally regulated manner.