Multiple signaling pathways, including the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) pathway, are activated in myocardial ischemia and reperfusion (MI/R) and correlate with cell death. However, the role of the JNK pathway in MI/R-induced cell death is poorly understood. In a rabbit model, we found that ischemia followed by reperfusion resulted in JNK activation which could be detected in cytosol as well as in mitochondria. To address the functional role of the JNK activation, we examined the consequences of blockade of JNK activation in isolated cardiomyocytes under conditions of simulated ischemia. The JNK activity was stimulated approximately sixfold by simulated ischemia and reperfusion (simulated MI). When a dominant negative mutant of JNK kinase-2 (dnJNKK2), an upstream regulator of JNK, and JNK-interacting protein-1 (JIP-1) were expressed in myocytes by recombinant adenovirus, the activation of JNK by simulated MI was reduced 53%. Furthermore, the TNFalpha-activated JNK activity in H9c2 cells was completely abolished by dnJNKK2 and JIP-1. In correlation, when dnJNKK2 and JIP-1 were expressed in cardiomyocytes, both constructs significantly reduced cell death after simulated MI compared to vector controls. We conclude that activation of the JNK cascade is important for cardiomyocyte death in response to simulated ischemia.