The present studies investigated the signaling pathways of vanadate, a vanadium ion with +5 oxidation state, to activate NF-kappaB transcription factor, a pivotal regulator of inflammatory responses. Treatment of macrophages with vanadate results in the activation of both NF-kappaB and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK). The activity of a recently identified cellular kinase, IkappaB kinase-beta (IKKbeta), was significantly elevated concomitant with the increased degradation of IkappaBalpha and enhanced NF-kappaB activity in cells exposed to vanadate. To determine whether the IKK pathway and JNK pathway are interconnected or bifurcate upon vanadate stimulation, cells were transfected with either a kinase inactive form of IKKbeta or a kinase inactive form of SAPK/ERK kinase 1 (SEK1). Inactive IKKbeta was able to block vanadate-induced degradation of IkappaBalpha, yet it was unable to influence the activation of JNK by vanadate. Conversely, blockage of JNK activation by transfection of a kinase-inactive form of SEK1 resulted in partially inhibition of vanadate-induced IkappaBalpha degradation. Both vanadate-induced degradation of IkappaBalpha and activation of JNK were potently inhibited by pretreatment of cells with N-acetylcysteine or dimercaprol. These results demonstrate that early activation of stress kinases or change of cellular redox states plays a key role in vanadate-induced activation of NF-kappaB and JNK.