Research over the past few years has demonstrated the central role of protein phosphorylation in regulating mitosis and the cell cycle. However, little is known about how the mechanisms regulating the entry into mitosis contribute to the positional and temporal regulation of the actomyosin-based contractile ring formed during cytokinesis. Recent studies implicate p34cdc2 as a negative regulator of myosin II activity, suggesting a link between the mitotic cycle and cytokinesis. In an effort to study the relationship between protein phosphorylation and cytokinesis, we examined the in vivo and in vitro phosphorylation of actin-associated cortical cytoskeletal (CSK) proteins in an isolated model of the sea urchin egg cortex. Examination of cortices derived from eggs or zygotes labeled with 32P-orthophosphate reveals a number of cortex-associated phosphorylated proteins, including polypeptides of 20, 43 and 66 kDa. These three major phosphoproteins are also detected when isolated cortices are incubated with [32P]ATP in vitro, suggesting that the kinases that phosphorylate these substrates are also specifically associated with the cortex. The kinase activities in vivo and in vitro are stimulated by fertilization and display cell cycle-dependent activities. Gel autophosphorylation assays, kinase assays and immunoblot analysis reveal the presence of p34cdc2 as well as members of the mitogen-activated protein kinase family, whose activities in the CSK peak at cell division. Nocodazole, which inhibits microtubule formation and thus blocks cytokinesis, significantly delays the time of peak cortical protein phosphorylation as well as the peak in whole-cell histone H1 kinase activity. These results suggest that a key element regulating cortical contraction during cytokinesis is the timing of protein kinase activities associated with the cortical cytoskeleton that is in turn regulated by the mitotic apparatus.