The tumor necrosis factor (TNF), Fas, and TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) receptors (R) are highly specific physiological mediators of apoptotic signaling. We observed earlier that a number of FasR-insensitive cell lines could redirect the proapoptotic signal to an anti-apoptotic ERK1/2 signal resulting in inhibition of caspase activation. Here we determine that similar mechanisms are operational in regulating the apoptotic signaling of other death receptors. Activation of the FasR, TNF-R1, and TRAIL-R, respectively, rapidly induced subsequent ERK1/2 activation, an event independent from caspase activity. Whereas inhibition of the death receptor-mediated ERK1/2 activation was sufficient to sensitize the cells to apoptotic signaling from FasR and TRAIL-R, cells were still protected from apoptotic TNF-R1 signaling. The latter seemed to be due to the strong activation of the anti-apoptotic factor NF-kappaB, which remained inactive in FasR or TRAIL-R signaling. However, when the cells were sensitized with cycloheximide, which is sufficient to sensitize the cells also to apoptosis by TNF-R1 stimulation, we noticed that adenovirus-mediated expression of constitutively active MKK1 could rescue the cells from apoptosis induced by the respective receptors by preventing caspase-8 activation. Taken together, our results show that ERK1/2 has a dominant protecting effect over apoptotic signaling from the death receptors. This protection, which is independent of newly synthesized proteins, acts in all cases by suppressing activation of the caspase effector machinery.