Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) is a serine-threonine kinase that is activated by various extracellular stimuli. Extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1 and ERK2), an MAPK subfamily, are activated by many oncogenes, such as ras and raf, and they induce cell proliferation. myc is also an oncogene and one of the targets of ERKs. Mutations of ras and overexpression of myc were found in various human cancers, and ERKs were also reported to play a role in carcinogenesis. In this study, we examined 39 biopsy specimens of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) and 5 of normal gingival mucosa for the expression of ERK protein and the proliferation marker, MIB-1 (Ki-67 antibody). Thirteen OSCC specimens and five normal gingival biopsies were also examined for the expression of ERKs mRNA by in situ hybridization. Double staining for ERKs and MIB-1 was also performed. Histologically, 18 patients (46%) were diagnosed with well-differentiated SCC, 17 (44%) with moderately differentiated SCC, and 4 (10%) with poorly differentiated SCC. The histologic grade correlated with the MIB-1 index. The localization of ERK1 was similar to that of ERK2. Positive signals for ERK proteins were localized in superficial keratinocytes in normal gingival mucosa, whereas these mRNAs were weakly positive in the basal and spinous layer. Basal and suprabasal cells were positive for MIB-1. In well-differentiated and moderately differentiated OSCC, positive signals for ERK mRNA and proteins were found at higher levels than in normal gingival mucosa in keratotic cells around cancer pearls. Some cells showed positive signals for ERKs and MIB-1. Furthermore, most cancer cells in poorly differentiated SCC were positive for both ERK and MIB-1. The histologic grade was statistically related to the percentage of cells positive for both ERK and MIB-1. This suggested that ERKs might be related to proliferation in OSCC.