The role of ERK-1 and ERK-2 in wild-type (wt) Ha-Ras, phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA), and serum-induced AP-1 activity was studied. Microinjection of ERK-specific substrate peptides inhibited the induction of AP-1 activity by all three stimuli, whereas a control peptide had no effect. By using eukaryotic expression constructs encoding wt ERK-1 and kinase-deficient mutants of ERKs 1 and 2, it was found that ERK-1 and ERK-2 activities are required for AP-1 activation stimulated by either wt Ha-Ras, PMA, or serum. Overexpression of ERK-1 augmented wt Ha-Ras stimulation of AP-1, while having no effect upon PMA or serum stimulation. Overexpression of either kinase-deficient ERK-1 or kinase-deficient ERK-2 partially inhibited AP-1 activation by wt Ha-Ras but had no effect on PMA or serum-induced activation. Coexpression of both interfering mutants abolished AP-1 induction by wt Ha-Ras, PMA, or serum. We conclude that ERKs are necessary components in the pathway leading to the activation of AP-1 stimulated by these agents.