The c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK) signal pathway has been implicated in the growth, cellular proliferation, and apoptosis in many kinds of carcinomas. However, the role of JNK in the development of esophageal squamous cell carcinomas (ESCCs) is unknown. To investigate the role of JNK in ESCC, in vitro, esophageal cancer cell line Eca109 was pretreated using SP600125, JNK specific inhibitor, then was subjected to MTT assay to examine cellular proliferation, flow cytometric analysis to detect apoptosis and cell cycle, and wound healing assay to evaluate cell migration. Meanwhile, the mRNA and protein expression of JNK in Eca109 cells pretreated with SP600125 were examined by real-time quantitative reverse transcription PCR (qRT-PCR) and Western blotting, respectively. In vivo, 12 paired of fresh ESCC and normal adjacent tissues (NAT) from Kazakh patients were used to validate the expression of JNK by qRT-PCR and Western blotting. Furthermore, to reconfirm the expression trend of activation JNK (p-JNK), enlarged 72 paired of Kazakh's ESCC and NAT were subjected to immunohistochemistry. Our results showed that the suppression of p-JNK could lead to apoptosis and reduce proliferation in Eca109 cells. However, there was an elevated expression of p-JNK protein in NAT compared with ESCC tissues, and there was significant difference between p-JNK expression and pathological differentiation (P < 0.05) in Kazakh populations. Together, all the data we obtained in the present study indicated that the p-JNK MAPK pathway was involved in pathogenesis of Kazakh's ESCC, and played a different roles in carcinogenesis and development of Kazakh's ESCC. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.