In the insulinoma cell line INS-1, a model system for glucose-regulated insulin secretion, the mitogen-activating protein (MAP) kinases/extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases, ERK1 and ERK2 are activated up to 15-fold by physiological concentrations of glucose, in the range of 3-12 mM. The related MAP kinase family members, the c-Jun-N-terminal kinases/stress-activated protein kinases are insensitive to glucose, while the p38 MAP kinase is slightly glucose responsive (1.5-fold). ERK activation is dependent on glucose metabolism and the subsequent increase in calcium influx. Inhibiting activation of ERK1 and ERK2 with the MEK1/2 inhibitor PD98059 has no effect on insulin secretion, indicating that ERK activity is not necessary for secretion under these conditions. Glucose activates ERK1 and ERK2 in cytosolic and purified nuclear fractions of INS-1 cells and more of each is found in nuclei from glucose-treated cells. These findings suggest that some of the glucose-dependent actions of ERKs will be exerted in the nucleus.