The retinoblastoma protein Rb is critical for the regulation of mammalian cell cycle entry. Hypophosphorylated Rb is considered to be the active form and directs G1 arrest, while hyperphosphorylated Rb permits the transition from G1 to S phase for cell proliferation. Upon stimulation by various growth factors, Rb appears to be phosphorylated by a cascade of phosphorylation events mediated mainly by kinases associated with cyclins D and E. Here we report that in prototype small intestine crypt stem cells (RIEC-6), stimulation with either epidermal growth factor or fetal bovine serum results in an unexpected rapid and sustained Rb phosphorylation at sites Ser780, Ser795, and Thr821 which precedes cyclin D1 expression, cyclin D1/cdk4 complex formation, and cdk4 kinase activity. Rb phosphorylation at Ser780 and Ser795 is prevented by MEK, but not phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, inhibitors. In vitro, Rb is directly phosphorylated by active ERK1/2 as shown by [γ- 32P]ATP labeling. The phosphorylation sites are further directed to Ser780 and Ser795 by kinase assays using recombined active ERK1/2 or immunoprecipitated phospho-ERK1/2 from mitogen stimulated cells. Pull-down assays revealed that Rb interacts with active ERK1/2 but not their inactive unphosphorylated forms. Upon EGF stimulation, phosphorylated ERK1/2 co-immunoprecipitates together with phosphorylated Rb. Collectively, these results demonstrate a novel rapid Rb phosphorylation at specific sites induced by mitogen stimulation in epithelial cells of the small intestine. These data specifically identify ERK1/2 as the kinase responsible for Rb phosphorylation targeted to sites Ser780 and Ser795. It appears that ERK1/2 could be an important link between a mitogenic signal directly to Rb, thereby providing a rapid response mechanism between mitogen stimulation and cell cycle machinery.