The v-abl and v-src oncogenes encode protein-tyrosine kinases that possess different biological properties in spite of their high degree of amino acid conservation. To correlate functional differences with structural domains of the two oncogenes, we recombined v-abl and v-src just downstream of the lysines in their ATP-binding sites, within the kinase domain. The biological activity of the chimeric genes was studied and compared with that of v-src and v-abl. The v-src/v-abl recombinant shared with v-src and v-abl the ability to transform fibroblasts. In addition, like v-abl, it transformed lymphoid cells and relieved a hematopoietic cell line of its interleukin 3 requirement. In contrast, the reciprocal construct, v-abl/v-src, was transformation defective. Lack of biological activity correlated with formation of a stable complex between the chimeric protein and two cellular proteins and with low kinase activity. We conclude that the specificity within the kinase domain determines the particular biological behavior of protein-tyrosine kinase oncogenes.