The stress-activated protein kinases SAPK/JNK and p38/mHOG are activated by diverse classes of stress stimuli, many of which induce redox perturbations. We studied the effects of reactive quinones on stress signaling pathways. Menadione (2-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone), which undergoes both one- and two-electron reduction, completely inhibited SAPK activity at high concentrations while activating SAPK at lower concentrations. Menadione activated p38/mHOG dose responsively. 2,3-Dimethyl-1,4-naphthoquinone (DMNQ), which preferentially undergoes two-electron reduction, had similar effects. In contrast, 1,4-naphthoquinone, which preferentially undergoes one-electron reduction, inhibited SAPK at high concentrations, but failed to activate SAPK at any concentration tested. In addition, this quinone activated p38 only at lower concentrations; high concentrations inhibited p38 activity. These activity profiles correlated with the activation state of the upstream kinase, indicating that the effects were mediated by an upstream step in the kinase pathway. The quinone reductase inhibitor dicoumarol blocked activation of SAPK by menadione and DMNQ, suggesting that two-electron reduction is important. Finally, addition of increasing amounts of hydrogen peroxide mimicked the effects of menadione and DMNQ, suggesting that hydrogen peroxide may be the relevant mediator. Differential activation of stress kinases by reactive quinones demonstrates that the cellular redox environment independently modulates these pathways.