Loss of DNA mismatch repair has been observed in a variety of human cancers. Recent studies have shown that loss of DNA mismatch repair results in resistance to cisplatin but not oxaliplatin, suggesting that the mismatch repair proteins serve as a detector for cisplatin but not oxaliplatin adducts. To identify the signal transduction pathways with which the detector communicates, we investigated the effect of loss of DNA mismatch repair on activation of known damage-responsive pathways, and recently reported that cisplatin differentially activates c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK) and c-Abl in repair-proficient vs.-deficient cells. In the current study, we directly compared differential activation of these pathways by cisplatin vs. oxaliplatin. The results confirm that cisplatin activates JNK kinase 5.7 +/- 1.5 (s.d.)-fold more efficiently in DNA mismatch repair-proficient than repair-deficient cells, and that the c-Abl response to cisplatin is completely absent in DNA mismatch repair-deficient cells. In contrast, there was no detectable activation of the JNK or c-Abl kinases in DNA mismatch repair-proficient or -deficient cells exposed to oxaliplatin. The present study demonstrates that, despite the similarity of the adducts produced by cisplatin and oxaliplatin, they appear to be recognized by different detectors. The DNA mismatch repair system plays an important part in the recognition of cisplatin adducts, and activation of both the JNK and c-Abl kinases in response to cisplatin damage is dependent on the detector function of the DNA mismatch repair proteins. In contrast, this detector does not respond to oxaliplatin adducts.