Studies were conducted on four pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase-containing fractions: purified pyruvate dehydrogenase complex, the dihydrolipoyl transacetylase-protein X-kinase subcomplex (E2.X.K), a kinase fraction (K fraction) prepared from the E2.X.K subcomplex, and a kinase fraction generated by limited trypsin-digestion of E2.X.K. We characterized the gel electrophoresis properties of dissociated subunits (one-dimensional and two-dimensional), the catalytic and ATP binding properties of kinase-containing fractions, and the subunit requirements for kinase binding to and being activated by the transacetylase-protein X subcomplex (E2.X). A significant portion of protein X was retained with the transacetylase core following release of virtually all the kinase. The K fraction had four major bands separated by sodium dodecyl sulfate-slab gel electrophoresis which corresponded to the dihydrolipoyl dehydrogenase, protein X, the trypsin-resistant catalytic subunit of the kinase and a chymotrypsin-resistant subunit which had a high pI and comigrated in one-dimensional systems with the chymotrypsin-sensitive alpha-subunit of the pyruvate dehydrogenase component. While purified kidney complex contained only about three molecules of kinase (determined by [14C]ATP binding), one molecule of E2.X subcomplex activated a large number (greater than 15) molecules of kinase associated with the protein X-containing K fraction. Sephadex G-200 chromatography of the K fraction in the presence of dithiothreitol led to coelution of protein X and kinase subunits. Limited trypsin digestion converted the transacetylase into subdomains and cleaved protein X and the high pI subunit of the kinase. Under those conditions, the intact catalytic subunit of the kinase did not bind to the large inner domain of the transacetylase but could be activated by untreated E2.X subcomplex. Thus, binding of the catalytic subunit of the kinase and its activation by E2.X required either protein X or the lipoyl-bearing outer domain of the transacetylase. In combination, our results suggest that protein X serves to anchor the kinase to the core of the complex.