The mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPKs) are conserved proteins that regulate cell growth, division and death. Although activated in the cytosol, the MAPKs translocate to the nucleus upon activation and phosphorylate a large number of nuclear proteins. Investigating how Ras transmits extracellular growth signals, the MAPK pathway has emerged as the crucial route between membrane-bound Ras and the nucleus. The MAPK pathway represents a cascade of phosphorylation events including three pivotal kinases, namely Raf, MEK (MAP kinase kinase), and ERK (MAP kinase). These kinases present new opportunities for the development of novel anti-cancer drugs designed to be target-specific and probably less toxic than conventional chemotherapeutic agents. A number of drugs inhibiting Ras, Raf or MEK are currently under clinical investigation. This review addresses the rationale for targeting the MAP kinase pathway and the current status of various pharmacological approaches.

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