In inflamed tissue, normal signal transduction pathways are altered by extracellular signals. For example, the JNK pathway is activated in psoriatic skin, which makes it an attractive target for treatment. To define comprehensively the JNK-regulated genes in human epidermal keratinocytes, we compared the transcriptional profiles of control and JNK inhibitor-treated keratinocytes, using DNA microarrays. We identified the differentially expressed genes 1, 4, 24, and 48 h after the treatment with SP600125. Surprisingly, the inhibition of JNK in keratinocyte cultures in vitro induces virtually all aspects of epidermal differentiation in vivo transcription of cornification markers, inhibition of motility, withdrawal from the cell cycle, stratification, and even production of cornified envelopes. The inhibition of JNK also induces the production of enzymes of lipid and steroid metabolism, proteins of the diacylglycerol and inositol phosphate pathways, mitochondrial proteins, histones, and DNA repair enzymes, which have not been associated with differentiation previously. Simultaneously, basal cell markers, including integrins, hemidesmosome and extracellular matrix components, are suppressed. Promoter analysis of regulated genes finds that the binding sites for the forkhead family of transcription factors are over-represented in the SP600125-induced genes and c-Fos sites in the suppressed genes. The JNK-induced proliferation appears to be secondary to inhibition of differentiation. The results indicate that the inhibition of JNK in epidermal keratinocytes is sufficient to initiate their differentiation program and suggest that augmenting JNK activity could be used to delay cornification and enhance wound healing, whereas attenuating it could be a differentiation therapy-based approach for treating psoriasis.