Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) is selectively activated by injecting either mos or MAPK kinase (mek) RNA into immature mouse oocytes maintained in the phosphodiesterase inhibitor 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX). IBMX arrests oocyte maturation, but Mos (or MEK) overexpression overrides this block. Under these conditions, meiosis I is significantly prolonged, and MAPK becomes fully activated in the absence of p34cdc2 kinase or maturation-promoting factor. In these oocytes, large openings form in the germinal vesicle adjacent to condensing chromatin, and microtubule arrays, which stain for both MAPK and centrosomal proteins, nucleate from these regions. Maturation-promoting factor activation occurs later, concomitant with germinal vesicle breakdown, the contraction of the microtubule arrays into a precursor of the spindle, and the redistribution of the centrosomal proteins into the newly forming spindle poles. These studies define important new functions for the Mos/MAPK cascade in mouse oocyte maturation and, under these conditions, reveal novel detail of the early stages of oocyte meiosis I.