We have identified, purified, and characterized two neurofilament/tau kinases from bovine brain, PK36 and PK40, with apparent Mr of 36,000 and 40,000 and with novel biochemical properties. A specially designed immunoassay for phosphorylated epitopes in neurofilament (NF) proteins was used in the early stages of the purification. Neither kinase is closely associated with the cytoskeleton. Both kinases phosphorylate bovine intermediate (NF-M) and heavy (NF-H) NF subunits and also bovine tau at the expected KSP sequences, though other sites cannot be ruled out. In human paired helical filaments, tau, phosphorylated at these same KSP sites, is a major characterized constituent. Neither kinase is activated by the usual second messengers. Tau and the above NF subunits are phosphorylated in high stoichiometric ratios. In the intermediate NF subunit, all the expected sites appear to be phosphorylated, but in the heavy NF subunit only 7 out of the greater than 40 expected sites can be phosphorylated by our kinases. We demonstrate that both kinases can induce considerable shifts of apparent Mr with SDS-PAGE for tau and, for the first time in vitro, also for the intermediate NF subunit. Interestingly, PK36 and particularly PK40 are strongly inhibited by an excess of free ATP. We propose that during normal aging, and in Alzheimer's disease, age-related mitochondrial dysfunction would reduce ATP levels, which in turn might release the neurofilament/tau kinase from inhibition with consequent paired helical filament formation.