A novel pp90rsk Ser/Thr kinase (referred to as RSK3) was cloned from a human cDNA library. The RSK3 cDNA encodes a predicted 733-amino-acid protein with a unique N-terminal region containing a putative nuclear localization signal. RSK3 mRNA was widely expressed (but was predominant in lung and skeletal muscle). By using fluorescence in situ hybridization, the human RSK3 gene was localized to band q27 of chromosome 6. Hemagglutinin epitope-tagged RSK3 was expressed in transiently transfected COS cells. Growth factors, serum, and phorbol ester stimulated autophosphorylation of recombinant RSK3 and its kinase activity toward several protein substrates known to be phosphorylated by RSKs. However, the relative substrate specificity of RSK3 differed from that reported for other isoforms. RSK3 also phosphorylated potential nuclear target proteins including c-Fos and histones. Furthermore, although RSK3 was inactivated by protein phosphatase 2A in vitro, the enzyme was not activated by ERK2/mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase. In contrast, the kinase activity of another epitope-tagged RSK isoform (RSK-1) was significantly increased by in vitro incubation with ERK2/MAP kinase. Finally, we used affinity-purified RSK3 antibodies to demonstrate by immunofluorescence that endogenous RSK3 undergoes serum-stimulated nuclear translocation in cultured HeLa cells. These results provide evidence that RSK3 is a third distinct isoform of pp90rsk which translocates to the cell nucleus, phosphorylates potential nuclear targets, and may have a unique upstream activator. RSK3 may therefore subserve a discrete physiologic role(s) that differs from those of the other two known mammalian RSK isoforms.