Control mechanisms that prevent aberrant signaling are necessary to maintain cellular homeostasis. We describe a new mechanism by which the adaptor protein Shc directly binds the MAP kinase Erk, thus preventing its activation in the absence of extracellular stimuli. The Shc-Erk complex restricts Erk nuclear translocation, restraining Erk-dependent transcription of genes, including those responsible for oncogenic growth. The complex forms through unique binding sites on both the Shc PTB domain and the N-terminal lobe of Erk. Upon receptor tyrosine kinase stimulation, a conformational change within Shc - induced through interaction with the phosphorylated receptor - releases Erk, allowing it to fulfill its role in signaling. Thus, in addition to its established role in promoting MAP kinase signaling in stimulated cells, Shc negatively regulates Erk activation in the absence of growth factors and thus could be considered a tumor suppressor in human cells.