Activation of c-Jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs)/stress-activated protein kinases is an early response of cells upon exposure to DNA-damaging agents. JNK-mediated phosphorylation of c-Jun is currently understood to stimulate the transactivating potency of AP-1 (e.g., c-Jun/c-Fos; c-Jun/ATF-2), thereby increasing the expression of AP-1 target genes. Here we show that stimulation of JNK1 activity is not a general early response of cells exposed to genotoxic agents. Treatment of NIH 3T3 cells with UV light (UV-C) as well as with methyl methanesulfonate (MMS) caused activation of JNK1 and an increase in c-Jun protein and AP-1 binding activity, whereas antineoplastic drugs such as mafosfamide, mitomycin C, N-hydroxyethyl-N-chloroethylnitrosourea, and treosulfan did not elicit this response. The phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitor wortmannin specifically blocked the UV-stimulated activation of JNK1 but did not affect UV-driven activation of extracellular regulated kinase 2 (ERK2). To investigate the significance of JNK1 for transactivation of c-jun, we analyzed the effect of UV irradiation on c-jun expression under conditions of wortmannin-mediated inhibition of UV-induced stimulation of JNK1. Neither the UV-induced increase in c-jun mRNA, c-Jun protein, and AP-1 binding nor the activation of the collagenase and c-jun promoters was affected by wortmannin. In contrast, the mitogen-activated protein kinase/ERK kinase inhibitor PD98056, which blocked ERK2 but not JNK1 activation by UV irradiation, impaired UV-driven c-Jun protein induction and AP-1 binding. Based on the data, we suggest that JNK1 stimulation is not essential for transactivation of c-jun after UV exposure, whereas activation of ERK2 is required for UV-induced signaling leading to elevated c-jun expression.