Extracellular signal regulated kinases 1 and 2 (ERK1/2) regulate cellular responses to a variety of extracellular stimuli. In the nervous system, ERK1/2 is critical for neuronal differentiation, plasticity and may also modulate neuronal survival. In this minireview, we present evidence that supports prosurvival activity of ERK1/2 in neurons. Several reports suggest that ERK1/2 mediates neuroprotective activity of extracellular factors, including neurotrophins. In addition, ERK1/2 is activated by neuronal injury. In damaged cells, ERK1/2 activation may act as a defensive mechanism that helps to compensate for the deleterious effects of a damaging insult. The emerging mechanisms of ERK1/2-mediated neuroprotection may involve transcriptional regulation and/or direct inhibition of cell death machinery.