Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a leading cause of liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) worldwide. The HCV capside core is a multifunctional protein with regulatory functions that affects transcription and cell growth in vitro and in vivo. Here, we show that both HCV genotype 1a and 3 core proteins activate MEK1 and Erk1/2 MAP kinases and that the costitutive expression of the HCV core results in a high basal activity of Raf1 and MAP/kinase/kinase, as determined by endogenous Raf1 in vitro kinase assay and immunodetection of hyperphosphorylated Erk1 and Erk2 even after a serum starvation. Moreover, the activation of both Erk1/2 and the downstream transcription factor Elk-1 in response to the mitogenic stimulus EGF is significantly prolonged. The sustained response to EGF in cells expressing the HCV core occurs despite a normal induction of the MAP phosphatases MKP regulatory feedback and is likely due to the costitutive activation of Raf-1 activity. The ability of HCV core proteins to directly activate the MAP kinase cascade and to prolong its activity in response to mitogenic stimuli may contribute to the neoplastic transformation of HCV infected liver cells.