Transient phosphorylation at an aspartate residue on the Spo0F protein is a central step in the phosphorelay signal transduction pathway controlling sporulation in Bacilli. The response regulator Spo0F-P is stable to hydrolysis (t1/2 > 24 h at 23 degrees C in the absence of Mg2+), allowing the use of nondenaturing PAGE to separate the phosphorylated and non-phosphorylated forms of Spo0F. Using this novel assay, phosphoramidate containing compounds were found to specifically phosphorylate Spo0F, a reaction that requires the presence of a divalent metal, but mixed phosphate-carboxylate compounds did not act as phospho donors. Rapid hydrolysis of Spo0F-P generated with phosphoramidate by proteins downstream in the phosphorelay (Spo0B and Spo0A) is consistent with phosphorylation at the active site of Spo0F. The initial rate of Spo0F-P formation from phosphoramidate displays Michaelis-Menten kinetics, providing evidence for the proposal that response regulators, such as Spo0F, function as phosphoryl transferase enzymes (McCleary et al., 1993). The results establish that Spo0F functions as a phosphoryl transferase that uses exclusively a phosphoramidate rather than an acyl phosphate as substrate during autophosphorylation.