The airway inflammation that results from respiratory syncytial virus infection is associated with a marked increase in interleukin 8 and neutrophils in the infected sites of the lung. In this study, the relationship between production of interleukin 8, infection of A549 cells by the virus, and activation of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) was investigated. Infection of A549 cells by the virus caused an increase on the activity of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 2 (ERK2) by about 10-fold compared with the noninfected cells. The increase in the activity of ERK2 during the viral infection was an immediate event and occurred prior to the viral replication process. PD98059, which blocks the activation of MAPK/ERK kinase 1 (MEK1), inhibited the increase in the activity of ERK2 by infection of respiratory syncytial virus by about 50% at 10 μM. Pretreatment of A549 cells with PD98059 before the viral infection also inhibited the increase in the production of interleukin 8 by 50%, but had little effect on the mRNA level. The viral infection had no effect on the activities of p38 and c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK). These observations suggest that activation of ERK2 by respiratory syncytial virus infection may be one of the mechanisms that result in the increase of the production of interleukin 8.