Mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase (MAPK/ERK) is a key molecule in intracellular signal transducing pathways that transport extracellular stimuli from cell surface to nuclei. MAPK/ERK has been revealed to be involved in the physiological proliferation of mammalian cells and also to potentiate them to transform. However, its role in the outgrowth of human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has yet to be clarified. Therefore, in this study, we investigated the activation of MAPK/ERK and its associated gene expression in HCC. MAPK/ERK was activated in 15 of 26 cases of HCC we examined (58%), and its activity level was significantly higher in HCC than in the adjacent non-cancerous lesions. Besides, MAPK/ERK activation in HCC was positively correlated with protein expression of transcription factor c-Fos. Furthermore, in 25 of 26 cases of HCC which genomic DNA was available, 22 cases without genomic DNA amplification exhibited positive correlation, not only between protein expression of c-Fos and cyclin D1, but also between MAPK/ERK activation and cyclin D1 expression. Concerning the relationship between MAPK/ERK activation and the clinicohistopathological features of HCC, the tumor (HCC) versus non-tumor (non-cancerous counterpart) ratio (T/N) of MAPK/ERK activity was positively correlated with tumor size, but neither with the stage of HCC nor the degree of differentiation of HCC. In conclusion, these findings suggest that MAPK/ERK activation in human HCC may play an important role in multistep hepatocarcinogenesis, especially in the progression of HCC; at least in part, through cyclin D1 up-regulation primarily induced by MAPK/ERK via c-Fos.