Extracellular signal regulated kinase 5 (ERK5) is a novel member of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) family with a poorly defined physiological function. Since ERK5 and its upstream activator MEK5 are abundant in skeletal muscle we examined a function of the cascade during muscle differentiation. We show that ERK5 is activated upon induction of differentiation in mouse myoblasts and that selective activation of the pathway results in promoter activation of differentiation-specific genes. Moreover, myogenic differentiation is completely blocked when ERK5 expression is inhibited by antisense RNA. Thus, we conclude that the MEK5/ERK5 MAP kinase cascade is critical for early steps of muscle cell differentiation.