Hck and Src are members of the Src family of protein-tyrosine kinases that carry out distinct and overlapping functions in vivo (Lowell, C. A., Niwa, M., Soriano, P., and Varmus, H. E. (1996) Blood 87, 1780-1792). In an attempt to understand how Hck and Src can function both independently and in concert, we have compared 1) their in vitro substrate specificity and 2) the accessibility of their Src homology 2 (SH2) domain. Using several synthetic peptides, we have demonstrated that Hck and Src recognize similar structural features in the substrate peptides, suggesting that both kinases have the intrinsic ability to carry out overlapping cellular functions by phosphorylating similar cellular proteins in vivo. Using a phosphotyrosine- containing peptide that has previously been shown to bind the SH2 domain of Src family kinases with high affinity, we found that although Src could bind to the phosphopeptide, Hck showed no interaction. The inability of Hck to bind the phosphopeptide was not a result of a stable intramolecular interaction between its SH2 domain and C-terminal regulatory phosphotyrosine residue (Tyr-520), as most Hck molecules in the purified Hck preparation were not tyrosine-phosphorylated. In contrast to intact Hck, a recombinant truncation analog of Hck was able to bind the phosphopeptide with an affinity similar to that of the Src SH2 domain, suggesting that conformational constraints are imposed on intact Hck that limit accessibility of its SH2 domain to the phosphopeptide. Furthermore, the difference in SH2 domain accessibility is a potential mechanism that enables Src and Hck to perform their respective unique functions by 1) targeting them to different subcellular compartments, whereupon they phosphorylate different cellular proteins, and/or 2) facilitating direct binding to their cellular substrates.