Background: Pyelonephritis is a risk factor for renal tubular epithelial cell damage. Recent studies have shown that Escherichia coli and/or its toxins may stimulate apoptotic cell death in renal tubular cells, but the underlying molecular mechanisms remain to be elucidated. Methods: Confluent LLC-PK<sub>1</sub> cells were exposed to E. coli toxins from overnight cultures of the uropathogenic O6K13H1 (O6) and the nonpathogenic W3110. The cell death was studied with morphological and biological assay. Results: E. coli soluble toxins from uropathogenic O6:K13:H1(O6) strain were found to induce apoptosis in a dose- and time-dependent manner in LLC-PK1 cells. The expression of FasR and the phosphorylation of ERK1/2 were significantly upregulated by O6 soluble toxins in a time-dependent manner. Cell death was completely inhibited by two specific ERK1/2 inhibitors, but not by a broad caspase inhibitor, zVAD-fmk, implicating a caspase-independent pathway via ERK. Moreover, we found that lysophosphatidic acid could trigger a survival signal through G-proteins and PI3K. Conclusion: We demonstrate that apoptosis induced by uropathogenic E. coli toxins is dependent on ERK1/2. Caspases, although being activated, are not necessary for cell death, and they act after the ERK signaling at which point cells become committed to cell death or can be rescued.