Many studies suggest that insulin utilizes multiple signal transduction pathways. Insulin's effects are initiated by insulin binding to the insulin receptor, resulting in tyrosine phosphorylation of insulin receptor and intracellular substrates, such as insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1), IRS-2, or Shc. We recently demonstrated that immediate-early gene egr-1 transcription was fully induced without phosphorylation of IRS-1 in Chinese hamster ovary cells (Harada, S., Smith, R. M., Smith, J. A., Shah, N. , Hu, D.-Q. & Jarett, L. (1995) J. Biol. Chem. 270, 26632-26638). In the present study, we examined the effects of insulin on immediate-early gene egr-1 and c-fos expression in 32D cells overexpressing the insulin receptor (32D/IR), IRS-1 (32D/IRS), or both (32D/IR+IRS) and compared these effects with insulin-induced tyrosine phosphorylation. Insulin (17 nM) increased egr-1 and c-fos expression in 32D/IR and 32D/IR+IRS cells, but not in parental cells or 32D/IRS cells, as determined by Northern blot analysis. Insulin treatment (5 min at 37 degrees C) markedly increased tyrosine phosphorylation of several proteins, including the insulin receptor, IRS-1, and Shc, in 32D/IR+IRS cells as determined by immunoprecipitation and Western blot analysis with anti-phosphotyrosine antibody. In contrast, only two tyrosine-phosphorylated proteins, i.e. insulin receptor and Shc, were detected in 32D/IR cells. These data suggest that insulin receptor and Shc phosphorylation is necessary for insulin-induced egr-1 and c-fos expression, but IRS-1 phosphorylation is not necessary or sufficient for the expression of these genes. Furthermore, the effect of specific inhibitors on insulin-induced egr-1 expression was examined. Wortmannin (25 nM), a phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitor, had no effect on insulin-induced egr-1 expression. In contrast, PD 98059 (30 microM), a mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase inhibitor, totally blocked egr-1 expression induced by insulin. These data indicate that mitogen-activated protein kinase activation, but not phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase activation, is involved in insulin-induced egr-1 expression. Taken together, insulin receptor tyrosine phosphorylation, Shc tyrosine phosphorylation, and mitogen-activated protein kinase activation appear to be the signal transduction pathway responsible for insulin-induced egr-1 expression in 32D cells. These data demonstrate that insulin has multiple signal transduction pathways that vary from cell to cell.