Cell death and cell survival are central components of normal development and pathologic states. Transforming growth factor beta1 (TGF-beta1) is a pleiotropic cytokine that regulates both cell growth and cell death. To better understand the molecular mechanisms that control cell death or survival, we investigated the role of TGF-beta1 in the apoptotic process by dominant-negative inhibition of both TGF-beta1 and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways. Murine macrophages (RAW 264.7) undergo apoptosis following serum deprivation, as determined by DNA laddering assay. However, apoptosis is prevented in serum-deprived macrophages by the presence of exogenous TGF-beta1. Using stably transfected RAW 264.7 cells with the kinase-deleted dominant-negative mutant of TbetaR-II (TbetaR-IIM) cDNA, we demonstrate that this protective effect by TGF-beta1 is completely abrogated. To determine the downstream signaling pathways, we examined TGF-beta1 effects on the MAPK pathway. We show that TGF-beta1 induces the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) activity in a time-dependent manner up to 4 h after stimulation. Furthermore, TGF-beta1 does not rescue serum deprivation-induced apoptosis in RAW 264.7 cells transfected with a dominant-negative mutant MAPK (ERK2) cDNA or in wild type RAW 264.7 cells in the presence of the MAPK kinase (MEK1) inhibitor. Taken together, our data demonstrate for the first time that TGF-beta1 is an inhibitor of apoptosis in cultured macrophages and may serve as a cell survival factor via TbetaR-II-mediated signaling and downstream intracellular MAPK signaling pathway.