Neurofilaments (NFs) are neuron-specific intermediate filaments, and are the major cytoskeletal component in large myelinated axons. Lysine-serine-proline (KSP) repeats in the tail domains of high molecular weight NF proteins (NF-M and NF-H) are extensively phosphorylated in vivo in the axon. This phosphorylation in the tail domain has been postulated to play an important role in mediating neuron-specific properties, including axonal caliber and conduction velocity. Recent studies have shown that the mitogen-activated protein kinases (extracellular signal-regulated kinases, Erk1 and Erk2) phosphorylate KSP motifs in peptide substrates derived from the NF-M and NF-H tail domains in vitro. However, it is not clear whether activation of the mitogen activated protein (MAP) kinase pathway is able to phosphorylate these domains in vivo. To answer this question, a constitutively active form of mitogen-activated Erk activating kinase (MEK1) was cotransfected with an NF-M expression construct into NIH 3T3 cells. The activated mutant, but not the dominant negative mutant, induced phosphorylation of NF-M. In addition, it was shown that epidermal growth factor, which induces the MAP kinase cascade in NIH 3T3 cells, also activated endogenous Erk1 and Erk2 and NF-M tail domain phosphorylation in the transfected cells. These results present direct evidence that in-vivo activation of Erk1 and Erk 2 is sufficient for NF-M tail domain phosphorylation in transfected cells.