A high-affinity IL-2 receptor requires two Janus protein tyrosine kinases (JAKs) for IL-2 signal transduction: JAK1 and JAK3. Since transphosphorylation of the two kinases is presumed to occur after receptor engagement we examined the phosphorylation by recombinant JAK3 of a peptide substrate corresponding to the JAK1 activation loop (KAIETDKEYYTVKD), which has two adjacent tyrosines. Mass spectral analysis of the enzymatically phosphorylated peptide showed that the second tyrosine was phosphorylated at a 30-fold greater rate than the first tyrosine. Moreover, no doubly phosphorylated peptide was detected by this analysis. Kinetic analysis of the reactions of singly phosphorylated JAK1 activation loop peptides showed that phosphorylating the first or second tyrosine decreased the k(cat)/K(m) for the phosphorylation of the other 115- and 26-fold, respectively. Singly changing each side chain of the KEYYTV portion of the peptide to a methyl group (alanine) yielded substrates comparable to the wild-type sequences in all cases except that of the first or second tyrosine, which showed a 153- or 70-fold drop in k(cat)/K(m), respectively. Using libraries of immobilized peptides with all 20 naturally occurring amino acids substituted for Y9 or T11 showed that the JAK3 tolerated substitution at T11 but prefers large hydrophobic amino acids at Y9. These results show that JAK3 does not act processively on the JAK1 activation loop in vitro and illustrate the role of Y9 in the recognition of the preferred site of phosphorylation which is Y10.