Double minute chromosomes (DMs) are extrachromosomal cytogenetic structures found in tumour cells. As hallmarks of gene amplification, DMs often carry oncogenes and drug-resistance genes and play important roles in malignant tumour progression and drug resistance. The mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signalling pathway is frequently dysregulated in human malignant tumours, which induces genomic instability, but it remains unclear whether a close relationship exists between MAPK signalling and DMs. In the present study, we focused on three major components of MAPK signalling, ERK1/2, JNK1/2/3 and p38, to investigate the relationship between MAPK and DM production in tumour cells. We found that the constitutive phosphorylation of ERK1/2, but not JNK1/2/3 and p38, was closely associated with DMs in tumour cells. Inhibition of ERK1/2 activation in DM-containing and ERK1/2 constitutively phosphorylated tumour cells was able to markedly decrease the number of DMs, as well as the degree of amplification and expression of DM-carried genes. The mechanism was found to be an increasing tendency of DM DNA to break, become enveloped into micronuclei (MNs) and excluded from the tumour cells during the S/G2 phases of the cell cycle, events that accompanied the reversion of malignant behaviour. Our study reveals a linkage between ERK1/2 activation and DM stability in tumour cells. © 2014 The Authors. The Journal of Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.