Microcystin-LR (MC-LR), a potent specific hepatotoxin produced by cyanobacteria, has recently been reported to show neurotoxicity. Our previous study demonstrated that MC-LR caused the reorganization of cytoskeleton architectures and hyperphosphorylation of the cytoskeletal-associated proteins tau and HSP27 in neuroendocrine PC12 cell line by direct PP2A inhibition and indirect p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation. It has been shown that oxidative stress is extensively associated with MC-LR toxicity, mainly resulting from an excessive production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). However, the mechanisms by which ROS mediates the cytotoxic action of MC-LR are unclear. In the present study, we investigated whether ROS might play a critical role in MC-LR-induced hyperphosphorylation of microtubule-associated protein tau and the activation of the MAPKs in PC12 cell line. The results showed that MC-LR had time- and concentration-dependent effects on ROS generation, p38-MAPK activation and tau phosphorylation. The time-course studies indicated similar biphasic changes in ROS generation and tau hyperphosphorylation, which started to increase within 1 h and reached the maximum level at 3 h followed by a decrease after prolonged treatment. Furthermore, pretreatment with the antioxidants, N-acetylcysteine and vitamin C, significantly decreased MC-LR-induced ROS generation and effectively attenuated p38-MAPK activation as well as tau hyperphosphorylation. Taken together, these findings suggest that ROS generation triggered by MC-LR is a key intracellular event that contributes to an induction of p38-MAPK activation and tau phosphorylation, and that blockade of this ROS-mediated redox-sensitive signal cascades may attenuate the toxic effects of MC-LR. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Environ Toxicol 30: 366–374, 2015.