We previously identified KT5720 and U-98017 as agents that had paclitaxel (taxol)-like activity in a Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) paclitaxel-dependent cell screen for paclitaxel mimetics. In vitro polymerization of purified brain tubulin is not affected substantially by these compounds, suggesting that, unlike paclitaxel, these agents do not directly affect tubulin. However, these compounds cause profound rearrangements of the cytoskeleton in intact cells, including an apparent alteration of microtubule length, overlapping of cells, and an increase in cell size. We show that KT5720 and U-98017 effectively inhibit mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activity in vitro. Staurosporine, a poor inhibitor of MAPK but a potent inhibitor of cAMP-dependent protein kinase A (PKA) activity, phospholipid/Ca++-dependent kinase (PKC), and cdc2, does not cause similar changes. In addition, paclitaxel-dependent cells grown in U-98017 have substantially decreased levels of stimulated MAPK. In correlation with these results, we have confirmed the presence of MAPK in isolated tubulin and microtubules in cells. We have examined the hypothesis that these compounds are working through inhibition of MAPK to alter microtubules by inhibiting the phosphorylation of microtubule-associated proteins. A MAPKK dominant negative mutation transfected in CHO cells inhibits activation of MAPK. Transfectants carrying this dominant mutant have impaired activation of MAPK and an altered cell morphology, similar in some respects to that seen with KT5720 and U-98017. These results support a role for MAPK family members in the control of microtubule dynamics and suggest that in intact cells U-98017 and KT5720 achieve their effects of altering cytoskeleton and supporting partial growth of paclitaxel-dependent cells through inhibition of kinases such as MAPK.