Sublytic complement attack through C5b-9 assembly induces oligodendrocytes (OLG) to express proto-oncogenes and to enter the cell cycle from resting G0/G1 phase to S phase. We have investigated whether cell cycle induction by C5b-9 is mediated by mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway in OLG. C5b-9 but not C5b6 induced activation of both ERK1 and c-jun NH2 terminal kinases 1 (JNK1) in OLG. The increased ERK1 and JNK1 activities are transient, reaching a maximum around 20 min following exposure to C5b-9. Activation of Raf-1 and MEK1, upstream kinases of ERK1, was shown by increased Raf-1 kinase activity in anti-Raf-1 immunoprecipitates of OLG treated with C5b-9 and ERK1 activity that can be inhibited by PD098,059, a specific MEK1 inhibitor. Requirement for the ERK1 pathway in DNA synthesis was then evaluated using PD098,059. Enhanced DNA synthesis induced by serum complement was completely abolished when OLG were pretreated with PD098,059. On the other hand, c-fos mRNA expression induced by complement was inhibited only 50% by PD098,059, while the c-jun mRNA level was not affected by this MEK1 inhibitor. Interestingly, p70 S6 kinase, an important ribosomal kinase in mitogenesis, was also activated by C5b-9. These findings indicated that the MAPK pathways appears to play a major role in inducing OLG to enter the S phase of the cell cycle from the resting G1/G0 phase.