We investigated whether artepillin C, a major component of Brazilian propolis, acts as a neurotrophic-like factor in rat PC12m3 cells, in which nerve growth factor (NGF)-induced neurite outgrowth is impaired. When cultures of PC12m3 cells were treated with artepillin C at a concentration of 20 microM, the frequency of neurite outgrowth induced by artepillin C was approximately 7-fold greater than that induced by NGF alone. Artepillin C induced-neurite outgrowth of PC12m3 cells was inhibited by the ERK inhibitor U0126 and by the p38 MAPK inhibitor SB203580. Although artepillin C-induced p38 MAPK activity was detected in PC12m3 cells, phosphorylation of ERK induced by artepillin C was not observed. On the other hand, artepillin C caused rapid activation of ERK and the time course of the activation was similar to that induced by NGF treatment in PC12 parental cells. However, NGF-induced neurite outgrowth was inhibited by artepillin C treatment. Interestingly, inhibition of ERK by U0126 completely prevented artepillin C-induced p38 MAPK phosphorylation of PC12m3 cells. These findings suggest that artepillin C-induced activation of p38 MAPK through the ERK signaling pathway is responsible for the neurite outgrowth of PC12m3 cells.