As potential targets for polyphosphoinositides, activation of protein kinase C (PKC) isotypes (beta 1, epsilon, zeta, nu) and a member of the PKC-related kinase (PRK) family, PRK1, has been compared in vitro. PRK1 is shown to be activated by both phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PtdIns 4,5-P2) as well as phosphatidylinositol 3,4,5-trisphosphate (PtdIns-3,4,5-P3) either as pure sonicated lipids or in detergent mixed micelles. When presented as sonicated lipids, PtdIns-4,5-P2 and PtdIns-3,4,5-P3 were equipotent in activating PRK1, and, furthermore, sonicated phosphatidylinositol (PtdIns) and phosphatidylserine (PtdSer) were equally effective. In detergent mixed micelles, PtdIns-4,5-P2 and PtdIns-3,4,5-P3 also showed a similar potency, but PtdIns and PtdSer were 10-fold less effective in this assay. Similarly, PKC-beta 1, -epsilon, and -nu were all activated by PtdIns-4,5-P2 and PtdIns-3,4,5-P3 in detergent mixed micelles. The activation constants for PtdIns-4,5-P2 and PtdIns-3,4,5-P3 were essentially the same for all the kinases tested, implying no specificity in this in vitro analysis. Consistent with this conclusion, the effects of PtdIns-4,5-P2 and PtdIns-3,4,5-P3 were found to be inhibited at 10 mM Mg2+ and mimicked by high concentrations of inositol hexaphosphate and inositol hexasulfate. The similar responses of these two classes of lipid-activated protein kinase to these phosphoinositides are discussed in light of their potential roles as second messengers.