Most cancer cells use anaerobic-like glycolysis to generate energy instead of oxidative phosphorylation. They also avoid recognition by CTLs, which occurs primarily through decreasing the level of MHC class I (MHC-I) at the cell surface. We find that the two phenomena are linked; culture conditions that force respiration in leukemia cells upregulate MHC-I transcription and protein levels at the cell surface, whereas these decrease in cells forced to perform fermentation as well as in leukemia cells lacking a functional mitochondrial respiratory chain. Forced respiration leads to increased expression of the MAPK ERK5, which activates MHC-I gene promoters, and ERK5 accumulation in mitochondria. Respiration-induced MHC-I upregulation is reversed upon short hairpin RNA-mediated ERK5 downregulation and by inactive mutants of ERK5. Moreover, short hairpin RNA for ERK5 leukemia cells do not tolerate forced respiration. Thus, the expression of ERK5 and MHC-I is linked to cell metabolism and notably diminished by the metabolic adaptations found in tumor cells.