Human alveolar macrophages respond to endotoxin (LPS) by activation of a number of mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways, including the p42/44 (extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK)) kinase pathway. In this study, we evaluated the role of the atypical protein kinase C (PKC) isoform, PKC ζ, in LPS-induced activation of the ERK kinase pathway. Kinase activity assays showed that LPS activates PKC ζ, mitogen-activated protein/ERK kinase (MEK, the upstream activator of ERK), and ERK. LPS did not activate Raf-1, the classic activator of MEK. Pseudosubstrate-specific peptides with attached myristic acid are cell permeable and can be used to block the activity of specific PKC isoforms in vivo. We found that a peptide specific for PKC ζ partially blocked activation of both MEK and ERK by LPS. We also found that this peptide blocked in vivo phosphorylation of MEK after LPS treatment. In addition, we found that LPS caused PKC ζ to bind to MEK in vivo. These observations suggest that MEK is an LPS-directed target of PKC ζ. PKC ζ has been shown in other systems to be phosphorylated by phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinase-dependent kinase. We found that LPS activates PI 3-kinase and causes the formation of a PKC ζ/PI 3-kinase-dependent kinase complex. These data implicate the PI 3-kinase pathway as an integral part of the LPS-induced PKC ζ activation. Taken as a whole, these studies suggest that LPS activates ERK kinase, in part, through activation of an atypical PKC isoform, PKC ζ.