Protein kinase isoenzymes belonging to the protein kinase C (PK-C) family present in rat mammary tissue have been resolved from one another by chromatography on hydroxyapatite, and characterized. PK-C alpha is the predominant isoenzyme and is present at a constant level of activity throughout mammary-gland development and differentiation. In contrast, marked changes in the relative abundance of other mammary PK-C isoenzymes accompany the transition from pregnancy to lactation. The sensitivity of mammary PK-C alpha to Ca2+ is greater in tissue from pregnant than from lactating rats. This isoenzyme has other atypical properties consistent with its being more highly phosphorylated than PK-C alpha in rat brain and spleen. One of the protein kinase isoenzymes resolved from mammary tissue recognizes the peptide substrate used to assay AMP-activated kinase and may thus interfere in the determination of this activity. Another is fully active in the absence of Ca2+ and is more than 80% active in the absence of added lipid effectors. A 'housekeeping' role is proposed for PK-C alpha in mammary tissue, whereas the less abundant PK-C isoenzymes may be involved in mammary cell proliferation and differentiation.