Double-stranded (ds) RNA, which accumulates during viral replication, activates the antiviral response of in. fected cells. In this study, we have identified a requirement for extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) in the regulation of interleukin 1 (IL-1) expression by macrophages in response to dsRNA and viral infection. Treatment of RAW 264.7 cells or mouse macrophages with dsRNA stimulates ERK phosphorylation that is first apparent following a 15-min incubation and persists for up to 60 min, the accumulation of iNOS and IL-1 mRNA following a 6-h incubation, and the expression of iNOS and IL-1 at the protein level following a 24-h incubation. Inhibitors of ERK activation prevent dsRNA-induced ERK phosphorylation and IL-1 expression by macrophages. The regulation of macrophage activation by ERK appears to be selective for IL-1, as ERK inhibition does not attenuate dsRNA-induced iNOS expression by macrophages. dsRNA stimulates both ERK activation and IL-1 expression by macrophages isolated from dsRNA-dependent protein kinase (PKR)-deficient mice, indicating that PKR does not participate in this antiviral response. These findings support a novel PKR-independent role for ERK in the regulation of the antiviral response of IL-1 expression and release by macrophages.