The V2 vasopressin receptor (V2R) activates the mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPK) ERK1/2 through a mechanism involving the scaffolding protein beta arrestin. Here we report that this activating pathway is independent of G alpha s, G alpha i, G alpha q or G betagamma and that the V2R-mediated activation of G alpha s inhibits ERK1/2 activity in a cAMP/PKA-dependent manner. In the HEK293 cells studied, the beta arrestin-promoted activation was found to dominate over the PKA-mediated inhibition of the pathway, leading to a strong vasopressin-stimulated ERK1/2 activation. Despite the strong MAPK activation and in contrast with other GPCR, V2R did not induce any significant increase in DNA synthesis, consistent with the notion that the stable interaction between V2R and beta arrestin prevents signal propagation to the nucleus. Beta arrestin was found to be essential for the ERK1/2 activation, indicating that the recruitment of the scaffolding protein is necessary and sufficient to initiate the signal in the absence of any other stimulatory cues. Based on the use of selective pharmacological inhibitors, dominant negative mutants and siRNA, we conclude that the beta arrestin-dependent activation of ERK1/2 by the V2R involves c-Src and a metalloproteinase-dependent trans-activation event. These findings demonstrate that beta arrestin is a genuine signalling initiator that can, on its own, engage a MAPK activation machinery upon stimulation of a GPCR by its natural ligand.