The family members of the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases mediate a wide variety of cellular behaviors in response to extracellular stimuli. One of the four main sub-groups, the p38 group of MAP kinases, serve as a nexus for signal transduction and play a vital role in numerous biological processes. In this review, we highlight the known characteristics and components of the p38 pathway along with the mechanism and consequences of p38 activation. We focus on the role of p38 as a signal transduction mediator and examine the evidence linking p38 to inflammation, cell cycle, cell death, development, cell differentiation, senescence and tumorigenesis in specific cell types. Upstream and downstream components of p38 are described and questions remaining to be answered are posed. Finally, we propose several directions for future research on p38.