The response of cells to extracellular stimuli is mediated in part by a number of intracellular kinase and phosphatase enzymes. Within this area of research the activation of the p42 and p44 isoforms of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases have been extensively described and characterised as central components of the signal transduction pathways stimulated by both growth factors and G-protein-coupled receptor agonists. Signaling events mediated by these kinases are fundamental to cellular functions such as proliferation and differentiation. More recently, homologues of the p42 and p44 isoforms of MAP kinase have been described, namely the stress-activated protein kinases (SAPKs) or alternatively the c-jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs) and p38 MAP kinase (the mammalian homologue of yeast HOG1). These MAP kinase homologues are integral components of parallel MAP kinase cascades activated in response to a number of cellular stresses including inflammatory cytokines (e.g., Interleukin-1 (Il-1) and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), heat and chemical shock, bacterial endotoxin and ischaemia/cellular ATP depletion. Activation of these MAP kinase homologues mediates the transduction of extracellular signals to the nucleus and are pivotal events in the regulation of the transcription events that determine functional outcome in response to such stresses. In this review we highlight the identification and characterisation of the stress-activated MAP kinase homologues, their role as components of parallel MAP kinase pathways and the regulation of cellular responses following exposure to cellular stress.