Activation of metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in glia results in significant physiological effects for both the glia and the neighboring neurons; but in many cases, the mGluR subtypes and signal transduction mechanisms mediating these effects have not been determined. In this study, we report that mGluR activation in primary cultures of rat cortical glia results in tyrosine phosphorylation of several proteins, including p44/p42 mitogen-activated protein kinases, also referred to as extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2). Incubation of glial cultures with the general mGluR agonist 1-aminocyclopentane-1S,3R-dicarboxylate and the mGluR group I-selective agonists (RS)-3,5-dihydroxyphenylglycine (DHPG) and L-quisqualate resulted in increased tyrosine phosphorylation of ERK1/2. The group II-selective agonist (2S,2'R,3'R)-2-(2',3'-dicarboxycyclopropyl)glycine and group III-selective agonist L(+)-2-amino-4-phosphonobutyric acid had no effect on tyrosine phosphorylation. DHPG-induced ERK1/2 phosphorylation could be inhibited by an antagonist that acts at group I or group II mGluRs but not by antagonists for group II and group III mGluRs. Protein kinase C (PKC) activators also induced ERK1/2 phosphorylation, but the PKC inhibitor bisindolylmaleimide I did not inhibit DHPG-induced ERK1/2 phosphorylation at a concentration that inhibited the response to phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate. These data suggest that mGluR activation of ERK1/2 in cultured glia is mediated by group I mGluRs and that this effect is independent of PKC activation. Furthermore, immunoblots with antibodies against various mGluR subtypes show expression of mGluR5, but no other mGluRs in our cultures. Taken together, these results suggest that mGluR5 stimulation results in tyrosine phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and other glial proteins.