The high-molecular-weight neurofilament protein (NF-H) is highly phosphorylated in vivo, with estimates as high as 16-51 mol of Pi/mol of protein. Most of the phosphorylation sites are thought to be located on Ser residues in multiple KSP repeats, in the carboxy-terminal tail region of the molecule. Because the extent and site-specific patterns of tail domain phosphorylation are believed to modulate neurofilament structure and function, it becomes essential to identify the endogenous sites of phosphorylation. In this study, we have used selective proteolytic cleavage procedures, Pi determinations, microsequencing, and mass-spectral analysis to determine the endogenously phosphorylated sites in the NF-H tail isolated from rat spinal cord. Twenty Ser residues in NF-H carboxy-terminal tail were analyzed; nine of these, all located in KSP repeats, were phosphorylated. No detectable phosphorylation could be identified in any of the 11 "non-KSP" Ser residues that were examined. KSPXKX, KSPXXX, and KSPXXK motifs were found to be phosphorylated. In addition, a 27-kDa KSP-rich domain, containing 43 virtually uninterrupted KSPXXX repeats, was isolated from the tail domain and found to contain between 30 and 35 mol of Pi/mol of protein. This domain appeared to be highly resistant to endoproteinase Glu-C digestion, although it contains a large number of glutamate residues. It could be proteolyzed, however, after dephosphorylation. This suggests that phosphorylation of the tail domain may contribute to neurofilament stability in vivo. A neuronal-derived protein kinase that specifically phosphorylates only KSPXKX motifs in neurofilaments has been reported. The presence of extensively phosphorylated KSPXXX repeats in NF-H in vivo suggests the existence of yet another, unidentified kinase(s) with specificity for KSPXXX motifs.