Expression of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK), the rate-limiting step in hepatic gluconeogenesis, is primarily regulated at the level of gene transcription, Insulin and phorbol esters inhibit basal PEPCK transcription and antagonize the induction of PEPCK gene expression by glucocorticoids and glucagon (or its second messenger cAMP). Insulin activates a signaling cascade involving Ras --> Raf --> p42/p44 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase kinase (MEK) --> p42/p44 MAP kinase (ERR 1 and 2). Recent reports suggest that activation of this Ras/MAP kinase pathway is critical for the effects of insulin on mitogenesis and c-fos transcription but is not required for insulin action on metabolic processes such as glycogen synthesis, lipogenesis, and Glut-4-mediated glucose transport. We have used three distinct approaches to examine the role of the Ras/MAP kinase pathway in the regulation of PEPCK transcription by insulin in H4IIE-derived liver cells: (i) chemical inhibition of Ras farnesylation, (ii) infection of cells with an adenovirus vector encoding a dominant-negative mutant of Ras, and (iii) use of a chemical inhibitor of MEK. Although each of these methods blocks insulin activation of MAP kinase, none alters insulin antagonism of cAMP- and glucocorticoid-stimulated PEPCK transcription. Although phorbol esters activate MAP kinase and mimic the effects of insulin on PEPCK gene transcription, inhibition of MEK has no effect on phorbol ester inhibition of PEPCK gene transcription. Using the structurally and mechanistically distinct phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI 3-kinase) inhibitors, wortmannin and LY 294002, we provide further evidence supporting a role for PI 3-kinase activation in the regulation of PEPCK gene transcription by insulin. We conclude that neither insulin nor phorbol ester regulation of PEPCK gene transcription requires activation of the Ras/MAP kinase pathway and that insulin signaling to the PEPCK promoter is dependent on PI 3-kinase activation.