The catalytic domain of protein kinases harbors a large number of disease-causing single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and common or neutral SNPs that are not known or hypothesized to be associated with any disease. Distinguishing these two types of polymorphisms is critical in accurately predicting the causative role of SNPs in both candidate gene and genome-wide association studies. In this study, we have analyzed the structural location of common and disease-associated SNPs in the catalytic domain of protein kinases and find that, although common SNPs are randomly distributed within the catalytic core, known disease SNPs consistently map to regulatory and substrate binding regions. In particular, a buried side-chain network that anchors the flexible activation loop to the catalytic core is frequently mutated in disease patients. This network was recently shown to be absent in distantly related eukaryotic-like kinases, which lack an exaggerated activation loop and, presumably, are not regulated by phosphorylation.