The protein product of the human vav oncogene, Vav exhibits a number of structural motifs suggestive of a role in signal transduction pathways, including a leucine-rich region, a plekstrin homology (PH) domain, a cysteine-rich domain, two SH3 regions, an SH2 domain, and a central Dbl homology (DH) domain. However, the transforming pathway(s) activated by Vav has not yet been elucidated. Interestingly, DH domains are frequently found in guanine nucleotide-exchange factors for small GTP-binding proteins of the Ras and Rho families, and it has been recently shown that, whereas Ras controls the activation of mitogen activated kinases (MAPKs), two members of the Rho family of small GTPases, Rac 1 and Cdc42, regulate activity of stress activated protein kinases (SAPKs), also termed c-jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs). The structural similarity between Vav and other guanine nucleotide exchange factors for small GTP-binding proteins, together with the recent identification of biochemical routes specific for members of the Ras and Rho family of GTPases, prompted us to explore whether MAPK or JNK are downstream components of the Vav signaling pathways. Using the COS-7 cell transient expression system, we have found that neither Vav nor the product of the vav proto-oncogene, proto-Vav, can enhance the enzymatic activity of a coexpressed, epitope tagged MAPK. On the other hand, we have observed that, whereas proto-Vav can slightly elevate JNK/SAPK activity, oncogenic Vav potently activates JNK/SAPK to an extent comparable to that elicited by two guanine-nucleotide exchange factors for Rho family members, Dbl and Ost. We also show that point mutations in conserved residues within the cysteine rich and DH domains of Vav both prevent its ability to activate JNK/SAPK and render Vav oncogenically inactive. In addition, we found that coexpression of the Rac-1 N17 dominant inhibitory mutant dramatically diminishes JNK/SAPK stimulation by Vav, as well as reduces the focus-forming ability of Vav in NIH3T3 murine fibroblasts. Taken together, these findings provide the first evidence that Rac-1 and JNK are integral components of the Vav signaling pathway.