Cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK)7-cyclin H, the CDK-activating kinase (CAK) and TFIIH-associated kinase in metazoans can be activated in vitro through T-loop phosphorylation or binding to the RING finger protein MAT1. Although the two mechanisms can operate independently, we show that in a physiological setting, MAT1 binding and T-loop phosphorylation cooperate to stabilize the CAK complex of Drosophila. CDK7 forms a stable complex with cyclin H and MAT1 in vivo only when phosphorylated on either one of two residues (Ser164 or Thr170) in its T-loop. Mutation of both phosphorylation sites causes temperature-dependent dissociation of CDK7 complexes and lethality. Furthermore, phosphorylation of Thr170 greatly stimulates the activity of the CDK7- cyclin H-MAT1 complex towards the C-terminal domain of RNA polymerase II without significantly affecting activity towards CDK2. Remarkably, the substrate-specific increase in activity caused by T-loop phosphorylation is due entirely to accelerated enzyme turnover. Thus phosphorylation on Thr170 could provide a mechanism to augment CTD phosphorylation by TFIIH-associated CDK7, and thereby regulate transcription.