Transcription of 5S rRNA and tRNA genes by RNA polymerase III (pol III) in cytosolic extracts of unfertilized Xenopus eggs and in a reconstituted system derived from Xenopus oocytes is repressed by the action of one or more mitotic protein kinases. Repression is due to the phosphorylation of a component of the pol III transcription apparatus. We find that the maturation/mitosis-promoting factor kinase (MPF, p34cdc2-cyclin B) can directly mediate this repression in vitro. Affinity-purified MPF and immune complexes formed with antibodies to the protein subunits of MPF (p34cdc2 and cyclin B) retain both histone H1 kinase activity and the capacity to repress transcription in the reconstituted transcription system. Transcription complexes of oocyte-type 5S RNA genes and tRNA genes are quantitatively more sensitive to MPF repression than the corresponding transcription complexes of the somatic-type 5S RNA gene. The differential transcription of oocyte- and somatic-type genes observed during early Xenopus embryogenesis has been reproduced with the reconstituted transcription system and affinity-purified MPF. This differential transcription may be due to the instability of transcription complexes on the oocyte-type genes and the heightened sensitivity of soluble transcription factors to inactivation by mitotic phosphorylation. Our results suggest that MPF may play a role in vivo in the establishment of the embryonic pattern of pol III gene expression.