As an important new reagent for studying the cAMP-dependent protein kinase, a 20-residue peptide has been synthesized that corresponds to the active site of the skeletal muscle inhibitor protein. This synthetic peptide inhibits the protein kinase competitively with a Ki = 2.3 nM; its sequence, Thr-Thr-Tyr-Ala-Asp-Phe-Ile-Ala-Ser-Gly-Arg-Thr- Gly-Arg-Arg-Asn-Ala-Ile-His-Asp, is that of a peptide previously reported by us which was derived from the native inhibitor protein by V8 protease digestion (Cheng, H. C., Van Patten, S. M., Smith, A. J., and Walsh, D. A. (1985) Biochem. J. 231, 655-661). Studies with analogues of this peptide show that its high affinity binding to the protein kinase (as also of the inhibitor protein) appears to be due to it mimicking the protein substrate by binding to the catalytic site via the arginine-cluster basic subsite (Formula: see text), and also to a critical contribution from one or more of the 6 N-terminal residues (Formula: see text). The availability of this high affinity synthetic peptide should open up a variety of avenues to probe the cellular actions of cAMP.