The ERK pathway is typically associated with activation of the EGF receptor and has been shown to play a major role in promoting several tumor phenotypes. An analogous signaling module, the JNK pathway, has not been shown to be consistently activated by the EGF receptor but is instead more uniformly stimulated by cellular stresses and cytokines. The function of the JNK pathway in primary tumors is unclear as it has been implicated in both promoting apoptosis and cell growth in vitro, which may be a reflection of the cell lines chosen. Primary human brain tumors frequently show overexpression of the EGF receptor. To clarify the role of JNK in tumorigenesis, we have investigated the role of JNK in a large panel of primary human brain tumors and tumor derived cell lines. Here we present evidence that JNK has a major role in promoting tumorigenesis both in vivo and in vitro. Western blot analysis demonstrated that 86% (18 of 21) of primary brain tumors showed evidence of JNK activation but only 38% (8 of 21) showed evidence of ERK activation. Kinase assays revealed that 77% of brain tumor cell lines activated JNK in response to EGF (7 of 13) or had high levels of basal activity (3 of 13), whereas none of six normal cell lines analysed, including astrocytes, had these properties. Of several growth factors examined, EGF produced the highest level of JNK induction in tumor cell lines and the duration of activation was greater than that seen for ERK. Expression of a dominant-negative (dn) form of JNK potently inhibited EGF mediated anchorage independent growth and protection from cell death in two glial tumor cell lines. These findings demonstrate that enhanced JNK activation is frequently found in primary brain tumors and that this activation contributes to phenotypes related to transformation.