The mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) module, composed of a MAPK, a MAPK kinase (MAPKK), and a MAPKK kinase (MAPKKK), is a cellular signaling device that is conserved throughout the eukaryotic world. In mammalian cells, various extracellular stresses activate two major subfamilies of MAPKs, namely, the Jun N-terminal kinases and the p38/stress-activated MAPK (SAPK). MTK1 (also called MEKK4) is a stress-responsive MAPKKK that is bound to and activated by the stress-inducible GADD45 family of proteins (GADD45alpha/beta/gamma). Here, we dissected the molecular mechanism of MTK1 activation by GADD45 proteins. The MTK1 N terminus bound to its C-terminal segment, thereby inhibiting the C-terminal kinase domain. This N-C interaction was disrupted by the binding of GADD45 to the MTK1 N-terminal GADD45-binding site. GADD45 binding also induced MTK1 dimerization via a dimerization domain containing a coiled-coil motif, which is essential for the trans autophosphorylation of MTK1 at Thr-1493 in the kinase activation loop. An MTK1 alanine substitution mutant at Thr-1493 has a severely reduced activity. Thus, we conclude that GADD45 binding induces MTK1 N-C dissociation, dimerization, and autophosphorylation at Thr-1493, leading to the activation of the kinase catalytic domain. Constitutively active MTK1 mutants induced the same events, but in the absence of GADD45.