The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathway contributes to 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA)-induced mononuclear differentiation in the human myeloblastic leukemia ML-1 cells. Upon TPA treatment, the activity of ERK1 and ERK2 rapidly increased, with maximal induction between 1 and 3 h, while ERK2 protein levels remained constant. The activity of JNK1 was also significantly induced, with JNK1 protein levels increasing moderately during exposure to TPA. Treatment of cells with PD98059, a specific inhibitor of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK), inhibited TPA-induced ERK2 activity. Furthermore, PD98059 completely blocked the TPA-induced differentiation of ML-1 cells, as assessed by a number of features associated with mononuclear differentiation including changes in morphology, nonspecific esterase activity, phagocytic ability, NADPH oxidase activity, mitochondrial respiration, and c-jun mRNA inducibility. We conclude that activation of the MEK/ERK signaling pathway is necessary for TPA-induced mononuclear cell differentiation.