Aberrant nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) signaling plays a role in cancer initiation and progression; thus, it represents a potential therapeutic target. We previously identified a mechanism of repression of NF-kappaB transcriptional activity and induction of apoptosis in colon cancer cells involving nuclear/nucleolar translocation of the RelA (p65) component of NF-kappaB. This response was stimulated by cellular stress-inducing agents, including aspirin, but not by tumor necrosis factor. Here, we investigate the upstream molecular mechanisms responsible for nucleolar targeting of RelA and show that aspirin activates the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway in colorectal cancer cells. We also show that aspirin causes rapid, ubiquitin-dependent degradation of cyclin D1, a known p38 target. Aspirin-induced p38 activation preceded cyclin D1 degradation, which was then followed by activation of the NF-kappaB pathway, suggesting a causative link. Indeed, chemical p38 inhibition (PD169316) and small interfering RNA directed against p38 blocked aspirin-induced cyclin D1 degradation, nucleolar translocation of RelA, and apoptosis. Furthermore, chemical inhibition of the cyclin D1/cyclin-dependent kinase 4 (CDK4) kinase complex, used as a surrogate for cyclin D1 degradation, caused nucleolar translocation of RelA, repression of kappaB-driven transcription, and apoptosis, thereby reproducing the effects of aspirin. In addition, we found that aspirin and the CDK4 inhibitor induced nucleolar translocation of RelA and apoptosis through a common mechanism involving the NH(2)-terminal nucleolar localization signal. Collectively, these data suggest that aspirin causes inhibition of cyclin D1/CDK4 through the p38 MAPK pathway. This inhibition stimulates the NF-kappaB pathway to induce nucleolar translocation of RelA and apoptosis. These novel findings have considerable relevance to the rational design of novel chemotherapeutic and chemopreventative strategies.