We have explored the possible role of dual specificity phosphatases (DUSPs) on acute EGF-mediated ERK signalling using high content imaging and a delayed MEK inhibition protocol to distinguish direct and indirect effects of the phosphatases on ERK activity. Using siRNAs, we were unable to find evidence that any of the MAPK phosphatases (MKPs) expressed in HeLa cells acts directly to dephosphorylate ppERK1/2 (dual phosphorylated ERKs 1 and/or 2) in the acute time-frame tested (0-14 min). Nevertheless, siRNAs against two p38/JNK MKPs (DUSPs 10 and 16) inhibited acute EGF-stimulated ERK activation. No such effect was seen for acute effects of the protein kinase C activator PDBu (phorbol 12,13 dibutyrate) on ERK activity, although effects of EGF and PDBu on ERK-dependent transcription (Egr-1 luciferase activity) were both reduced by siRNA targeting DUSPs 10 and 16. Inhibition of EGF-stimulated ERK activity by these siRNAs was reversed by pharmacological inhibition of p38 MAPK and single cell analysis revealed that the siRNAs did not influence the nuclear-cytoplasmic distribution of ppERK1/2. Thus, DUSPs 10 and 16 are positive regulators of activation, apparently acting by modulating cross-talk between the p38 and ERK pathways. A simplified mathematical model of this scenario accurately predicted the experimental data, supporting the conclusion that the major mechanism by which MKPs influence acute EGF-stimulated ERK responses is the negative regulation of p38, resulting in the positive regulation of ERK phosphorylation and activity.