Neuronal signal transduction by the JNK MAP kinase pathway is altered by a broad array of stimuli including exposure to the widely abused drug ethanol, but the behavioral relevance and the regulation of JNK signaling is unclear. Here we demonstrate that JNK signaling functions downstream of the Sterile20 kinase family gene tao/Taok3 to regulate the behavioral effects of acute ethanol exposure in both the fruit fly Drosophila and mice. In flies tao is required in neurons to promote sensitivity to the locomotor stimulant effects of acute ethanol exposure and to establish specific brain structures. Reduced expression of key JNK pathway genes substantially rescued the structural and behavioral phenotypes of tao mutants. Decreasing and increasing JNK pathway activity resulted in increased and decreased sensitivity to the locomotor stimulant properties of acute ethanol exposure, respectively. Further, JNK expression in a limited pattern of neurons that included brain regions implicated in ethanol responses was sufficient to restore normal behavior. Mice heterozygous for a disrupted allele of the homologous Taok3 gene (Taok3Gt) were resistant to the acute sedative effects of ethanol. JNK activity was constitutively increased in brains of Taok3Gt/+ mice, and acute induction of phospho-JNK in brain tissue by ethanol was occluded in Taok3Gt/+ mice. Finally, acute administration of a JNK inhibitor conferred resistance to the sedative effects of ethanol in wild-type but not Taok3Gt/+ mice. Taken together, these data support a role of a TAO/TAOK3-JNK neuronal signaling pathway in regulating sensitivity to acute ethanol exposure in flies and in mice.