Cross-linking the receptors for the Fc domain of IgG (Fc gamma R) on leukocytes induces activation of protein tyrosine kinases. The intermediary molecules that transduce to the nucleus the signals leading to induction of the diverse biological responses mediated by these receptors are not clearly identified. We have investigated whether mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) are involved in transmembrane signaling via the three Fc gamma R present on monocytic, polymorphonuclear, and natural killer (NK) cells. Our results indicate that occupancy of Fc gamma RI and Fc gamma RII on the monocytic cell line THP-I and on polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) induces, transiently and with fast kinetics, MAPK phosphorylation, as indicated by decreased electrophoretic mobility in sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and increased amounts of the proteins in antiphosphotyrosine antibody immunoprecipitates. This, associated with increased enzymatic activity, also occurs upon stimulation of the transmembrane isoform of CD16 (Fc gamma RIIIA) in NK cells and in a T cell line expressing transfected Fc gamma RIIIA alpha ligand-binding chain in association with zeta, but not upon stimulation of the glycosil-phosphatidylinositol-anchored Fc gamma RIIIB on PMN. Using the specific MAP kinase kinase inhibitor-PD 098059, we show that activation of MAPK is necessary for the Fc gamma R-dependent induction of c-fos and tumor necrosis factor alpha mRNA expression in monocytes and NK cells. These results underscore the role of MAPK as signal-transducing molecules controlling the expression of different genes relevant to leukocyte biology upon Fc gamma R stimulation.