Growth factors and their receptors regulate development of many organs through activation of multiple intracellular signaling cascades including a mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK). Extracellular regulated kinases (ERK)1/2, classic MAPK family members, are expressed in fetal mouse submandibular glands (SMG), and stimulate branching morphogenesis. ERK5, also called big mitogen-activated protein kinase 1, was recently found as a new member of MAPK super family, and its biological roles are still largely unknown. In this study, we investigated the expression and function of ERK5 in developing fetal mouse SMGs. Western blotting analysis showed that the expression pattern of ERK5 was different from the pattern of ERK1/2 in developing fetal SMGs. Both ERK1/2 and ERK5 were phosphorylated after exposure to ligands of the ErbB family of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs). Phosphorylation of ERK1/2 was strongly induced by epidermal growth factor (EGF) in SMG rudiments at embryonic day 14 (E14), E16 and E18. However, ERK5 phosphorylation induced by EGF was clearly observed at E14 and E16, but not at E18. Branching morphogenesis of cultured E13 SMG rudiments was strongly suppressed by administration of U0126, an inhibitor for ERK1/2 activation, whereas the phosphorylation of ERK5 was not inhibited by U0126. BIX02188, a specific inhibitor for ERK5 activation, also inhibited branching morphogenesis in cultured SMG rudiments. These results show that EGF-responsive ERK5 is expressed in developing fetal mouse SMG, and suggest that both ERK1/2 and ERK5 signaling cascades might play an important role in the regulation of branching morphogenesis.