Upon liver injury, hepatic stellate cells (HSC) show increased proliferation, motility, and extracellular matrix (ECM) production. The extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK) control different functions in a cell-specific manner. In this study, we evaluated the role of ERK activation in cultured HSC stimulated with platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and after induction of liver injuryin vivo. HSC were isolated from normal human liver tissue, cultured on plastic, and used in their myofibroblast-like phenotype. Inin vivoexperiments, HSC were isolated from normal rats or at different time points after a single intragastric administration of CCl4 . Nontoxic concentrations of PD98059, a specific inhibitor of ERK activation, reduced PDGF-induced activation of ERK in a dose-dependent fashion. Suppression of ERK activation was associated with complete inhibition of HSC proliferation and with a 57% reduction in chemotaxis. In the presence of the ERK inhibitor, binding of the AP-1 complex and of STAT1 to the related regulatory elements was inhibited. The inhibition of the DNA binding activity of STAT1 was mediated by a reduction in PDGF-induced tyrosine phosphorylation. Expression ofc-fosin response to PDGF was also reduced, but not suppressed, by treatment with PD98059. In HSC isolated from CCl4 -treated rats, ERK activity increased as early as 6 hours following liver damage, and declined thereafter. The results of this study indicate that ERK activation regulates proliferation and chemotaxis of HSC, and modulates nuclear signaling. Acute liver damage in vivoleads to activation of ERK in HSC.