Two S49 mouse lymphoma cell variants hemizygous for expression of mutant regulatory (R) subunits of type I cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase were used to investigate functional consequences of lesions in the putative cAMP-binding sites of R subunit. Kinase activation properties of wild-type and mutant enzymes were compared using cAMP and six site-selective analogs of cAMP. Kinases from both mutant sublines were relatively resistant to cyclic nucleotide-dependent activation, but they were fully activable by at least some effectors. Relative resistances of the mutant kinases varied from about 5-fold for analogs selective for their nonmutated sites to as much as 700-fold for analogs selective for their mutated sites; resistance to cAMP was intermediate. Apparent affinities of wild-type and mutant R subunits for [3H]cAMP were not appreciably different, but competition experiments with site-selective analogs of cAMP suggested that binding of cAMP to mutant R subunits was primarily to their nonmutated sites. Analyses of cooperativity in cyclic nucleotide-dependent activation of mutant kinases, synergism between site I- and site II-selective analogs in activating the mutant enzymes, and dissociation of bound cAMP from mutant R subunits provided additional evidence that the mutations in these strains selectively inactivated single classes of cAMP-binding sites: phenomena attributable in wild-type enzyme to intrachain interactions between sites I and II were always absent or severely diminished in experiments with the mutant enzymes. These results confirm that R subunit sequences implicated in cAMP binding by homology with other cyclic nucleotide-binding proteins actually correspond to functional cAMP-binding sites. Furthermore, occupation of either cAMP-binding site I or II is apparently sufficient for activation of cAMP-dependent protein kinase. The presence of four functional cAMP-binding sites in wild-type kinase enhances the cooperativity and sensitivity of cAMP-mediated activation.