The degradation of phosphorylated and dephosphorylated neurofilament proteins by the Ca2+-activated neutral proteinase calpain was studied. Neurofilaments were isolated from bovine spinal cord, dephosphorylated by alkaline phosphatase (from Escherichia coli) and radioiodinated with [125I]-Bolton-Hunter reagent. The radioiodinated neurofilament proteins (untreated and dephosphorylated) were incubated in the presence and absence of calpain from rabbit skeletal muscle, and the degradation rates of large (NF-H), mid-sized (NF-M) and small (NF-L) neurofilament polypeptides were analysed by SDS/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis and autoradiography. The degradation of dephosphorylated neurofilament proteins occurred at a higher rate, and to a greater extent, than did that of the phosphorylated (untreated) neurofilament proteins. The dephosphorylated high-molecular-mass neurofilament (NF-HD) was proteolyzed 6 times more quickly than the untreated NF-H. The degradation rate of the NF-M and NF-L neurofilament proteins was also enhanced after dephosphorylation, but less than that of NF-H. This indicates that the dephosphorylation of neurofilament proteins can increase their sensitivity to calpain degradation.