Thrombin is known to evoke numerous inflammatory and proliferative responses in a wide variety of its target cells. Recent studies have demonstrated morphoregulatory and mitogenic effects of thrombin on astroglial cells (astrocytes). The present study deals with thrombin-induced activation of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase in primary cultures of rat astrocytes. Treatment of serum-starved astrocytes with thrombin resulted in a rapid activation of tyrosine (Tyr) phosphorylation of a set of proteins including a prominent one with a molecular mass of 42 kDa (p42). The identity of p42 with MAP kinase was confirmed by MAP kinase-immunoreactivity of isolated [i.e., immunoprecipitated with anti-phosphotyrosine (PY) antibodies] p42 and by increased myelin basic protein (MBP) kinase activity present in MAP kinase immunoprecipitates of thrombin-treated cultures. Pertussis toxin (PTX) pretreatment failed to inhibit thrombin stimulation of p42 phosphorylation, indicating the lack of involvement of PTX sensitive G proteins in the mechanism of activation of MAP kinase by thrombin. Chronic exposure of cultures to phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate to down-regulate PKC resulted in an attenuation of thrombin-induced p42 Tyr phosphorylation, although H-7, a known PKC inhibitor, failed to block thrombin effect. However, staurosporine, a nonspecific protein kinase inhibitor, prevented the activation of p42 phosphorylation. It is concluded that thrombin induces MAP kinase activation in astrocytes by a mechanism involving a staurosporine-sensitive pathway.