In response to environmental stresses, a family of protein kinases phosphorylate eIF2 (eukaryotic initiation factor 2) to alleviate cellular injury or alternatively induce apoptosis. Phosphorylation of eIF2 reduces global translation, allowing cells to conserve resources and to initiate a reconfiguration of gene expression to effectively manage stress conditions. Accompanying this general protein synthesis control, eIF2 phosphorylation induces translation of specific mRNAs, such as that encoding the bZIP (basic leucine zipper) transcriptional regulator ATF4 (activating transcription factor 4). ATF4 also enhances the expression of additional transcription factors, ATF3 and CHOP (CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein homologous protein)/GADD153 (growth arrest and DNA-damage-inducible protein), that assist in the regulation of genes involved in metabolism, the redox status of the cells and apoptosis. Reduced translation by eIF2 phosphorylation can also lead to activation of stress-related transcription factors, such as NF-kappaB (nuclear factor kappaB), by lowering the steady-state levels of short-lived regulatory proteins such as IkappaB (inhibitor of NF-kappaB). While many of the genes induced by eIF2 phosphorylation are shared between different environmental stresses, eIF2 kinases function in conjunction with other stress-response pathways, such as those regulated by mitogen-activated protein kinases, to elicit gene expression programmes that are tailored for the specific stress condition. Loss of eIF2 kinase pathways can have important health consequences. Mice devoid of the eIF2 kinase GCN2 [general control non-derepressible-2 or EIF2AK4 (eIF2alpha kinase 4)] show sensitivity to nutritional deficiencies and aberrant eating behaviours, and deletion of PEK [pancreatic eIF2alpha kinase or PERK (RNA-dependent protein kinase-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase) or EIF2AK3] leads to neonatal insulin-dependent diabetes, epiphyseal dysplasia and hepatic and renal complications.