MAP kinases (MAPKs) are evolutionarily conserved regulators that mediate signal transduction and play essential roles in various physiological processes. There are three main families of MAPKs in mammals, whose functions are regulated by activators, inactivators, substrates and scaffolds, which together form delicate signaling cascades in response to different extracellular or intracellular stimulation. MAPK signaling is tightly regulated so that optimal biological activities are achieved and health is maintained. However, how the specificity of the signaling flow along each cascade is achieved is still relatively unclear. In this review, we summarize recent advances in understanding the regulation of MAPK cascades and the roles of MAP kinases and their regulators in development and in immune responses.