Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation provides cell type- specific signals important for cellular differentiation, proliferation, and survival. Cyclic AMP (cAMP) has divergent effects on MAPK activity depending on whether signaling is through Ras/Raf-1 or Rap1/B-raf. We found that central nervous system-derived neurons, but not astrocytes, express B-raf. In neurons, cAMP activated MAPK in a Rap1/B-raf-dependent manner, while in astrocytes, cAMP decreased MAPK activity. Inhibition of MAPK in neurons decreased neuronal growth factor-mediated survival, and activation of MAPK by cAMP analogues rescued neurons from death. Furthermore, constitutive expression of B-raf in astrocytoma cells increased MAPK activation, as seen in neurons, and enhanced proliferation. These data provide the first experimental evidence that B-raf is the molecular switch which dominantly permits differential cAMP-dependent regulation of MAPK in neurons versus astrocytes, with important implications for both survival and proliferation.