We have investigated the activation of the extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1 and ERK2) by muscle contraction and insulin in perfused rat skeletal muscle. Both stimuli activated ERK1 and ERK2 by an upstream kinase MAP/ERK kinase (MEK)-dependent mechanism, as the MEK inhibitor PD-98059 inhibited ERK phosphorylation. The presence of the phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinase inhibitors LY-294002 and wortmannin totally eradicated ERK1 and ERK2 phosphorylation in response to insulin but not contraction. Insulin and muscle contraction activated muscle glucose transport, glycogen synthase, and amino acid transport independently of ERK signaling, whereas the PI 3-kinase inhibitors abolished the stimulatory effects of insulin but not those of contraction on these three cellular processes. We conclude that 1) insulin and contraction activate ERK signaling in skeletal muscle; 2) ERK signaling is not necessary for activation of glucose and amino acid transport or glycogen synthase activity by contraction and insulin in skeletal muscle; and 3) insulin-induced activation of MEK, the upstream activator of ERK, is dependent on PI 3-kinase, whereas contraction utilizes a different mechanism.