Protein phosphorylation during development of sea urchin eggs from fertilization to first cleavage was examined by labeling cells with specific antiphosphoprotein antibodies. Indirect immunofluorescence staining with monoclonal antithiophosphoprotein antibody (Gerhart et al.: Cytobios 43:335-347, 1985) has revealed that nuclei as well as centrosomes, kinetochores, and midbodies were specifically thiophosphorylated in developing eggs incubated with adenosine 5'-O (3-thiotriphosphate) (ATP-gamma-S). The phosphorylation reaction required Mg2+ but was not dependent on cAMP or calmodulin in detergent-extracted models. Centrosomes were purified by fractionation of isolated mitotic spindles with 0.5 M KCl extraction. The thiophosphoproteins were retained in the purified centrosomes and the antibody recognized a major 225-Kd polypeptide on immunoblots. In an independent preparation, a monoclonal antiphosphoprotein antibody (CHO3) was found also to react with mitotic poles and stained a 225-Kd polypeptide, confirming the centrosome specificity of this protein. Immunoelectron microscopy showed that the 225-Kd thiophosphoprotein was found at mitotic poles associated with granules to which mitotic microtubules were directly attached. Unlike centrosomes in permeabilized eggs, those in isolated spindles could not be thiophosphorylated, possibly due to inactivation or loss of either phosphorylation enzymes or cofactors, or both, during isolation. The immunofluorescence labeling of thiophosphate could be inhibited by ATP and AMP.PNP in a concentration-dependent manner. Exogenous ATP could abolish thiophosphate-staining more effectively when added with phosphatase inhibitors, suggesting a dynamic state in which centrosomal proteins are being phosphorylated and dephosphorylated in rapid succession by the action of protein kinase(s) and phosphatase(s).