The time course and dose-response to proteolysis of three dimeric isozymes of creatine kinase, CK-MM (muscle), CK-BB (brain), and CK-MB (heart) and the homologous monomer, arginine kinase were compared. Chymotrypsin and trypsin cause a rapid and significant loss of intact CK-BB, but limited hydrolysis of CK-MM. After I h of hydrolysis by chymotrypsin, 80%, of CK-MM is intact as judged by quantification of monomers after electrophoresis in sodium dodecyl sulfate. While 50% of the intact monomers of CK-MB remain under these conditions, no CK-BB monomers are detected. These results indicate that treatment with chymotrypsin leads to a CK-MB devoid of the B-subunit. When treated with trypsin for I h, CK-MM is totally resistant to hydrolysis and all CK-BB is highly degraded. However, CK-MB exhibits approximately 90% intact monomers, indicating survival of intact B-subunit in CK-MB. This suggests that heterodimerization of a B-subunit with an M-subunit may have a protective effect against hydrolysis by trypsin. In view of the considerably larger number of potentially tryptic sensitive sites on the muscle isozyme, the resistance of CK-MM and susceptibility of CK-BB dimers to trypsin implies that differences in subunit tertiary structure are a factor in proteolysis of the homodimeric isozymes. Arginine kinase is rapidly degraded by trypsin, but is minimally affected by chymotrypsin. The finding that both a monomeric (arginine kinase) and dimeric (CK-BB) phosphagen kinase are highly susceptible to proteolysis by trypsin indicates that quaternary structure is not, in and of itself, an advantage in resistance to proteolysis. Since both arginine kinase and muscle creatine kinase are resistant to chymotryptic hydrolysis, it seems unlikely that in general, the increased packing density, which may result from dimerization can account for the stability of CK-MM towards trypsin. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.