The receptors for insulin and epidermal growth factor undergo tyrosine autophosphorylation in response to ligand stimulation, while pp60v-src is an unregulated tyrosine kinase. In this report we show that each of the kinases phosphorylates an exogenous peptide that corresponds to the insulin proreceptor sequence 1142-1153. When the kinases were pre-phosphorylated, saturable Michaelis-Menten kinetics were observed. However, when the kinases had not been pre-phosphorylated biphasic kinetics were observed; at progressively higher substrate concentrations (greater than Km) less substrate phosphorylation was seen. Furthermore, when the kinases had not been pre-phosphorylated kinase autophosphorylation was inhibited at high substrate concentrations. On this basis we postulated that the substrate inhibition of substrate phosphorylation resulted directly from substrate inhibition of kinase autophosphorylation. To test this we designed additional peptides to function specifically as inhibitors of the kinases. Each of the 3 tyrosine residues within the substrate sequence were replaced either by 4-methoxyphenylalanine or phenylalanine, residues structurally similar to tyrosine but unable to accept phosphoryl transfer. Both analogs inhibited insulin and epidermal growth factor receptor autophosphorylation, whereas only the Phe-substituted analog inhibited pp60v-src phosphorylation. These data suggest that autophosphorylation of tyrosine residues near the kinase active site is a generalized mechanism for tyrosine kinase activation and that activation can be selectively blocked by substrates and nonphosphorylatable analogs.