Two cDNA clones, cATMPK1 and cATMPK2, encoding MAP kinases (mitogen-activated protein kinases) have been cloned from Arabidopsis thaliana and their nucleotide sequences have been determined. Putative proteins encoded by ATMPK1 and ATMPK2 genes, designated ATMPK1 and ATMPK2, contain 370 and 376 amino acid residues, respectively, and are 88.7% identical at the amino acid sequence level. ATMPK1 and ATMPK2 exhibit significant similarity to rat ERK2 (49%) and Xenopus MAP kinase (50%). The amino acid residues corresponding to the sites of phosphorylation (Thr-Glu-Tyr) that are involved in the activation of MAP kinases are conserved in ATMPK1 and ATMPK2. Northern blot analysis indicates that the ATMPK1 and ATMPK2 mRNAs are significantly present in all the organs except seeds. Genomic Southern blot analysis suggests that there are a few additional genes that are related to ATMPK1 and ATMPK2 in the Arabidopsis genome. Purified Xenopus MAP kinase kinase (MAPK kinase) phosphorylates ATMPK1 and ATMPK2 proteins that have been expressed in Escherichia coli, activating these enzymes. A rapid and transient activation of 46-kDa protein kinase activity that phosphorylated myelin basic protein (MBP) was detected when auxin-starved tobacco BY-2 cells were treated with synthetic auxin, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D). Protein kinase activities which phosphorylated the recombinant ATMPK2 protein also increased rapidly after auxin treatment in the auxin-starved BY-2 cells. These results suggest that auxin may function as an activator of plant MAP kinase homologues, as do various mitogens in animal systems.