The regulation of granulosa cell survival and death is critical for determining the fate of ovarian follicles. Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) play central roles in various cellular responses, but the relationship between MAPK activities and granulosa cell survival as well as death is poorly understood. The present study examines the roles of the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and p38 MAPK activities in porcine granulosa cells in response to survival factors and oxidative stress. Cell survival and apoptosis were evaluated by Trypan blue staining, DNA fragmentation, and chromatin staining with Hoechst 33342. Cell survival induced by serum or by follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) was inhibited when ERK activity was attenuated with PD98059, which led to the induction of apoptosis. The p38 inhibitor SB203580 significantly decreased the cell survival evoked by FSH, but not by serum. Even in the presence of 10% serum, H(2)O(2) caused apoptosis, indicating that H(2)O (2) may be an atretogenic factor or its mediator. Interestingly, this induction of apoptosis was also prevented by SB203580, suggesting that p38 is involved in an apoptotic pathway induced by H(2)O (2) as well as in a survival pathway evoked by FSH in granulosa cells. These results indicate that whereas ERK activity is critical to the survival of granulosa cells, p38 activity contributes to their survival or apoptosis depending on the stimulus.