Protein phosphorylation is an important posttranslational modification process that plays a crucial role in signal transduction. There are many protein kinases involved in cell signaling. However, substrate motifs of many protein kinases in signal transduction are not well-known. Traditional methodologies for identifying these motifs are often difficult and inefficient. In the present study, we developed a novel approach for discovering linear substrate motifs of protein kinases. This method is based on the screening of random synthetic combinatorial peptide libraries on beads where each bead expresses only one peptide entity [Lam et al. (1991) Nature 354, 82-84]. We chose cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase (cAPK) as a model system in the present study since it is a well-studied enzyme. Random pentapeptide and heptapeptide libraries were screened with the addition of [gamma-32P]ATP and cAPK. 32P-Labeled peptide-beads were then isolated for microsequencing. The identified peptide motif for cAPK was RRXS and is identical to that reported in the literature. Kinetic studies of the best three peptides indicate that they are efficient substrates for cAPK discovered from random synthetic combinatorial peptide libraries. Our results also suggest that this method is potentially useful for identifying substrate motifs of various protein kinases with high sensitivity and specificity. In addition, this method can also be used as a general method for identifying linear substrate motifs for various posttranslational modifications.