Interleukin-3 (IL-3) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) have previously been reported to induce rapid phosphorylation of the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase. However, little is known about signaling events initiated by both hematopoietins that occur downstream of the MAP kinase. MAP kinase has been shown to phosphorylate the AP-1 transcription factor and also to activate two kinases designated insulin-stimulated protein kinase-1 and MAP kinase- activated protein (MAP-KAP) kinase 2. We show here that IL-3 and GM-CSF induce MAPKAP kinase 2 activity in the human megakaryoblastic leukemia cell line MO7 and phosphorylate the human small heat shock protein Hsp 27 on serine residues in vitro. GM-CSF also induced Hsp 27 phosphorylation in neutrophils in a range similar to that observed in MO7 cells, suggesting that MAPKAP kinase 2-mediated Hsp 27 activation occurs independently of proliferation. Hsp 27 phosphorylation was dose- dependent, occurred as early as 5 minutes after factor exposure, and was inhibited by the tyrosine kinase inhibitors genistein and herbimycin A. Furthermore, the protein phosphatase A2 abolished IL-3- and GM-CSF-induced serine phosphorylation of Hsp 27. Taken together, our findings indicate that tyrosine phosphorylation of MAP kinase is a prerequisite for serine phosphorylation of Hsp 27, which is mediated by MAPKAP kinase 2. Hsp 27 has shown activation-dependent translocation from the cytosolic to the nuclear region and has been linked to the cellular stress response. However, its precise function is largely unknown. Our data identify Hsp 27 as a target of the IL-3/GM-CSF stimulation pathway that involves MAP kinase and MAPKAP kinase 2. In addition, our results indicate that Hsp 27 may be target of phosphorylation events not only in the stress response but also in unstressed cells responding to cytokine stimulation.