In yeast, the transmembrane protein kinase/endoribonuclease Ire1p activated by endoplasmic reticulum stress cleaves HAC1 mRNA, leading to production of the transcription factor Hac1p that activates the unfolded protein response (UPR). In mammals, no Hac1p counterpart has yet been discovered despite the presence of Ire1p homologs in the endoplasmic reticulum. Instead, the transcription factor ATF6 specific to the mammalian UPR is regulated by intramembrane proteolysis. Here, we identified the transcription factor XBP1, a target of ATF6, as a mammalian substrate of such an unconventional mRNA splicing system and showed that only the spliced form of XBP1 can activate the UPR efficiently. Our results reveal features of the UPR conserved during evolution and clarify the relationship between IRE1- and ATF6-dependent pathways.