Mixed lineage kinases (MLKs) are a family of serine/threonine kinases that function in the SAPK signaling cascade. MLKs activate JNK/SAPK in vivo by directly phosphorylating and activating the JNK kinase SEK-1 (MKK4 and -7). Importantly, the MLK member MLK3/SPRK has been shown recently to be a direct target of ceramide and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and to mediate the TNF-α and ceramide-induced JNK activation in Jurkat cells. Here we report that MLK3 can phosphorylate and activate MEK-1 directly in vitro and also can induce MEK phosphorylation on its activation sites in vivo in COS-7 cells. Surprisingly, this induction of MEK phosphorylation does not result in ERK activation in vivo. Rather, in cells expressing active MLK3, ERK becomes resistant to activation by growth factors and mitogens. This restriction in ERK activation requires MLK3 kinase activity, is independent of Raf activation, and is reversed by JNK pathway inhibition either at the level of SEK-1, JNK, or Jun. These results demonstrate that sustained JNK activation uncouples ERK activation from MEK in a manner requiring Jun-mediated gene transcription. This in turn points to the existence of a negative cross-talk relationship between the stress-activated JNK pathway and the mitogen-activated ERK pathway. Thus, our findings imply that some of the biological functions of JNK activators, such as TNF-α and ceramide, may be attributed to their ability to block cell responses to growth and survival factors acting through the ERK/MAPK pathway.