Growth factors and the extracellular matrix provide the environmental cues that control the proliferation of most cell types. The binding of growth factors and matrix proteins to receptor tyrosine kinases and integrins, respectively, regulates several cytoplasmic signal transduction cascades, among which activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase cascade, ras --> Raf --> MEK --> ERK, is perhaps the best characterized. Curiously, ERK activation has been associated with both stimulation and inhibition of cell proliferation. In this review, we summarize recent studies that connect ERK signaling to G1 phase cell cycle control and suggest that the cellular response to an ERK signal depends on both ERK signal intensity and duration. We also discuss studies showing that receptor tyrosine kinases and integrins differentially regulate the ERK signal in G1 phase.