We examined the role of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases in the signal transduction of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF)-mediated effects in endothelial cells (ECs). When MSS31 murine endothelial cells were stimulated with bFGF, three MAP kinase homologs, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) 1/2, c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) 1, and p38 MAP kinase were activated. The inhibition of the ERK1/2 pathway with PD98059, a specific inhibitor of MEK1, or of the p38 MAP kinase pathway with SB203580, a specific inhibitor of p38 MAP kinase, abrogated bFGF-mediated tube formation by MSS31 cells in type I collagen gel. Tube formation in type I collagen gel requires proliferation and migration of these cells, and degradation of the extracellular matrix by these cells. Both PD98059 and SB203580 inhibited bFGF-stimulated DNA synthesis as well as migration of MSS31 cells. Cell migration requires cytoskeleton reorganization and cell adhesion. bFGF induced actin reorganization and vinculin assembly in the focal adhesion plaque, both of which were inhibited by SB203580 but not by PD98059. bFGF induced the expression of the transcription factor ETS-1 in MSS31 cells. ETS-1 is responsible for the expression of proteases as well as integrin beta 3 subunit in ECs, and converts ECs to invasive phenotype. PD98059 inhibited this induction of ETS-1, whereas SB203580 did not. These results indicate that ERK1/2 and p38 MAP kinase are requisite for the signal transduction of bFGF in ECs. The roles of these two MAP kinase homologs are not identical, but these kinases work in a coordinated fashion.