Altogether 2 holoenzymes and 4 catalytic CK2 constructs were expressed and characterized i.e. CK2alpha (2) (1-335) beta(2); CK2alpha'-derived holoenzyme; CK2alpha(1-335); MBP-CK2alpha'; His-tagged CK2alpha and His-tagged CK2alpha'. The two His-tagged catalytic subunits were expressed in insect cells, all others in Escherichia coli. IC(50) studies involving the established CK2 inhibitors DMAT, TBBt, TBBz, apigenin and emodin were carried out and the K(i) values calculated. Although the differences in the K(i) values found were modest, there was a general tendency showing that the CK2 holoenzymes were more sensitive towards the inhibitors than the free catalytic subunits. Thermal inactivation experiments involving the individual catalytic subunits showed an almost complete loss of activity after only 2 min at 45 degrees C. In the case of the two holoenzymes, the CK2alpha'-derived holoenzyme lost ca. 90% of its activity after 14 min, whereas CK2alpha (2) (1-335) beta(2) only showed a loss of ca. 40% by this time of incubation. Gel filtration analyses were performed at high (500 mM) and low (150 mM) monovalent salt concentrations in the absence or presence of ATP. At 500 mM NaCl the CK2alpha'-derived holoenzyme eluted at a position corresponding to a molecular mass of 105 kDa which is significantly below the elution of the CK2alpha (2) (1-335) beta(2) holoenzyme (145 kDa). Calmodulin was not phosphorylated by either CK2alpha (2) (1-335) beta(2) or the CK2alpha'-derived holoenzyme. However, in the presence of polylysine only the CK2alpha (2) (1-335) beta(2) holoenzyme could use calmodulin as a substrate such as the catalytic subunits, in contrast to the CK2alpha'-derived holoenzyme which only phosphorylated calmodulin weakly. This attenuation may be owing to a different structural interaction between the catalytic CK2alpha' subunit and non-catalytic CK2beta subunit.