para-phenylenediamine (p-PD) is a suspected carcinogen, but it has been widely used as a component in permanent hair dyes. In this study, the mechanism of p-PD-induced cell death in normal Chang liver cells was investigated. The results demonstrated that p-PD decreased cell viability in a dose-dependent manner. Cell death via apoptosis was confirmed by enhanced DNA damage and increased cell number in the sub-G1 phase of the cell cycle, using Hoechst 33258 dye staining and flow cytometry analysis. Apoptosis via reactive oxygen species generation was detected by the dichlorofluorescin diacetate staining method. Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation was assessed by western blot analysis and revealed that p-PD activated not only stress-activated protein kinase (SAPK)/c-Jun N-terminal kinases (JNK) and p38 MAPK but also extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). Cytotoxicity and apoptosis induced by p-PD were markedly enhanced by ERK activation and selectively inhibited by ERK inhibitor PD98059, thus indicating a negative role of ERK. In contrast, inhibition of p38 MAPK activity with the p38-specific inhibitor SB203580 moderately inhibited cytotoxicity and apoptosis induction by p-PD. Similarly, SP600125, an inhibitor of SAPK/JNK, moderately inhibited cytotoxicity and apoptosis induced by p-PD, thus implying that p38 MAPK and SAPK/JNK had a partial role in p-PD-induced apoptosis. Western blot analysis revealed that p-PD significantly increased phosphorylation of p38 and SAPK/JNK and decreased phosphorylation of ERK. In conclusion, the results demonstrated that SAPK/JNK and p38 cooperatively participate in apoptosis induced by p-PD and that a decreased ERK signal contributes to growth inhibition or apoptosis. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Environ Toxicol 29: 981–990, 2014.