The cAMP- and cGMP-dependent protein kinases (PKA and PKG) are key effectors of cyclic nucleotide signaling. Both share structural features that include tandem cyclic nucleotide-binding (CNB) domains, CNB-A and CNB-B, yet their functions are separated through preferential activation by either cAMP or cGMP. Based on structural studies and modeling, key CNB contact residues have been identified for both kinases. In this study, we explored the requirements for conversion of PKA activation from cAMP-dependent to cGMP-dependent. The consequences of the residue substitutions T192R/A212T within CNB-A and/or G316R/A336T within CNB-B of PKA-RIα on cyclic nucleotide binding and holoenzyme activation were assessed in vitro using purified recombinant proteins, and ex vivo using RIα-deficient mouse embryonic fibroblasts genetically reconstituted with wild type or mutant PKA-RIα. In vitro, a loss of binding and activation selectivity was observed when residues in either one of the CNB domains were mutated, while mutations in both CNB domains resulted in a complete switch of selectivity from cAMP to cGMP. The switch in selectivity was also recapitulated ex vivo, confirming their functional roles in cells. Our results highlight the importance of key cyclic nucleotide contacts within each CNB domain and suggest that these domains may have evolved from an ancestral gene product to yield two distinct cyclic nucleotide-dependent protein kinases.