Dual specificity protein kinase which acts as an essential component of the MAP kinase signal transduction pathway. Essential component of the stress-activated protein kinase/c-Jun N-terminal kinase (SAP/JNK) signaling pathway. With MAP2K4/MKK4, is the one of the only known kinase to directly activate the stress-activated protein kinase/c-Jun N-terminal kinases MAPK8/JNK1, MAPK9/JNK2 and MAPK10/JNK3. MAP2K4/MKK4 and MAP2K7/MKK7 both activate the JNKs by phosphorylation, but they differ in their preference for the phosphorylation site in the Thr-Pro-Tyr motif. MAP2K4/MKK4 shows preference for phosphorylation of the Tyr residue and MAP2K7/MKK7 for the Thr residue. The monophosphorylation of JNKs on the Thr residue is sufficient to increase JNK activity indicating that MAP2K7/MKK7 is important to trigger JNK activity, while the additional phosphorylation of the Tyr residue by MAP2K4/MKK4 ensures optimal JNK activation. Has a specific role in JNK signal transduction pathway activated by proinflammatory cytokines. The MKK/JNK signaling pathway is also involved in mitochondrial death signaling pathway, including the release cytochrome c, leading to apoptosis.