A growing body of evidence has suggested that oxidative stress causes cardiac injuries during ischemia/reperfusion. Extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs) have been reported to play pivotal roles in many aspects of cell functions and to be activated by oxidative stress in some types of cells. In this study, we examined oxidative stress-evoked signal transduction pathways leading to activation of ERKs in cultured cardiomyocytes of neonatal rats, and determined their role in oxidative stress-induced cardiomyocyte injuries. ERKs were transiently and concentration-dependently activated by hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in cardiac myocytes. A specific tyrosine kinase inhibitor, genistein, suppressed H2O2-induced ERK activation, while inhibitors of protein kinase A and C or Ca2+ chelators had no effects on the activation. When CSK, a negative regulator of Src family tyrosine kinases, or dominant-negative mutant of Ras or of Raf-1 kinase was overexpressed, activation of transfected ERK2 by H2O2 was abolished. The treatment with H2O2 increased the number of cells stained positive by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling, and induced formation of DNA ladder and activation of CPP32, suggesting that H2O2 induced apoptosis of cardiac myocytes. When H2O2-induced activation of ERKs was selectively inhibited by PD98059, the number of cardiac myocytes which showed apoptotic death was increased. These results suggest that Src family tyrosine kinases, Ras and Raf-1 are critical for ERK activation by hydroxyl radicals and that activation of ERKs may play an important role in protecting cardiac myocytes from apoptotic death following oxidative stress.