Bovine kappa-casein was fractionated at pH 8.0 on DEAE-Sepharose with an NaCl gradient, followed by DEAE-cellulose chromatography using a decreasing pH gradient from pH 6.0 to 4.5. At least ten components could be identified, each differing in N-acetylneuraminic acid (NeuAc) and/or phosphorus content. Two components appeared to be multiply-phosphorylated, but did not contain NeuAc. The possible significance of this finding in relation to the mode of phosphorylation and glycosylation in vivo is discussed. A carbohydrate-free fraction as well as two NeuAc-containing fractions were compared in their substrate behaviour towards the action of the milk-clotting enzyme chymosin at pH 6.6 and 30 degrees C. To this end the trichloroacetic acid-soluble reaction products were analysed by high-performance gel-permeation chromatography. In order of increasing carbohydrate content the kcat. values found ranged from 40 to 25 s-1 and the Km values from 9 to 3 microM; the overall substrate properties of these components as reflected by the kinetic parameter kcat./Km ranged from 5 to 8 microM-1 X S-1. Irreversible polymerization of the carbohydrate-free fraction brought about a more-than-2-fold increase in Km, the kcat. value remaining virtually constant. The kcat./Km found for the cleavage of whole kappa-casein at pH 6.6 was of the same magnitude as the kcat./Km found for the polymerized carbohydrate-free fraction (i.e. about 3 microM-1 X S-1). No indication of substrate inhibition was found for the carbohydrate-free fraction.