Erk5 is a mitogen-activated protein kinase, the biological role of which is largely undefined. Therefore, we deleted the erk5 gene in mice to assess its function in vivo. Inactivation of the erk5 gene resulted in defective blood-vessel and cardiac development leading to embryonic lethality around embryonic days 9.5-10.5. Cardiac development was retarded largely, and the heart failed to undergo normal looping. Endothelial cells that line the developing myocardium of erk5-/- embryos displayed a disorganized, rounded morphology. Vasculogenesis occurred, but extraembryonic and embryonic blood vessels were disorganized and failed to mature. Furthermore, the investment of embryonic blood vessels with smooth muscle cells was attenuated. Together, these data define an essential role for Erk5 in cardiovascular development. Moreover, the inability of Erk5-deficient mice to form a complex vasculature suggests that Erk5 may play an important role in controlling angiogenesis.