We have developed assays for the binding of nucleotide and protein substrates to p38alpha protein kinase based on time-resolved Forster resonance energy transfer. p38alpha was biotinylated by addition of a sequence that targets biotin to a single lysine when coexpressed with biotin ligase in Escherichia coli, allowing formation of a complex between a streptavidin "LANCE" europium chelate conjugate and p38alpha. When this reagent was combined with M39AF, a p38 inhibitor containing a fluorescent moiety whose excitation wavelengths match the emission wavelengths of the europium chelate, a change in ratio of light emitted at 665 nm/615 nm is detected. Less than 100pM complex was detected with a signal/background ratio of >30-fold. The complex exhibits slow, tight binding kinetics where the apparent K(d) decreases with a relaxation time of 21 min at 125 pM biotin-p38alpha. Preincubating inhibitors or ATP with biotin-p38alpha and adding M39AF as a competitor yielded IC(50)s consistent with those measured by enzyme assay for the activated form of biotin-p38alpha. The same technique was also used to measure affinity of inhibitors for the unphosphorylated and catalytically inactive form of biotin-p38alpha. To measure affinity of p38alpha for its protein substrate MK2, we incubated biotin-p38alpha with a glutathione S-transferase MK2 fusion protein. Detection of the complex after incubation with streptavidin-allophycocyanin and a LANCE-conjugated anti-GST allowed measurement of affinity of MK2 for biotin-p38alpha and detection of 0.5 nM p38alpha.MK2 complex with signal/background ratio >5-fold. Competition with unbiotinylated p38alpha yielded an IC(50) value of 5 nM. Activation of either p38alpha or MK2 had no effect on the measured K(d). M39AF was found to bind in a ternary complex with p38alpha.MK2 with lower affinity than that observed in the binary complex with p38alpha alone.