In search for components of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades in maize (Zea mays) involved in response to abscisic acid (ABA) stimulus, a novel MAPK gene, ZmMPK3, from ABA-treated maize leaves cDNA was isolated and characterized. The full length of the ZmMPK3 gene is 1 520 bp and encodes a 376 amino acid protein with a predicted molecular mass of 43.5 kD and a pI of 5.83. ZmMPK3 contains all 11 MAPK conserved subdomains and the phosphorylation motif TEY. Amino acid sequence alignment revealed that ZmMPK3 shared high identity with group-A MAPK in plants. A time course (30–360 min) experiment using a variety of signal molecules and stresses revealed that the transcripts level of ZmMPK3 accumulated markedly and rapidly when maize seedlings were subjected to exogenous signaling molecules: ABA, H2O2, jasmonic acid and salicylic acid, various abiotic stimuli such as cold, drought, ultraviolet light, salinity, heavy metal and mechanical wounding. Its transcription was also found to be tissue-specific regulated. Here, we show that ABA and H2O2 induced a significant increase in the ZmMPK3 activity using immunoprecipitation and in-gel kinase assay. Furthermore, the results showed that the ZmMPK3 protein is localized mainly to the nucleus. These results suggest that the ZmMPK3 may play an important role in response to environmental stresses.