The serotonin transporter (SERT) is regulated by various signaling mechanisms that may operate to maintain appropriate levels of synaptic serotonin (5-HT). We demonstrate that one of the mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), p38 MAPK, regulates SERT. Treatment of rat midbrain synaptosomes with p38 MAPK-specific inhibitors, PD169316 [4-(4-fluorophenyl)-2-(4-nitrophenyl)-5-(4-pyridyl)-1H-imidazole] or SB203580 [4-(4-fluorophenyl)-2-(4-methylsulfinylphenyl)-5-(4-pyridyl)-1H-imidazole], reduced 5-HT uptake. An additive SERT inhibition by PD169316 and beta-phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (beta-PMA) indicated the involvement of a protein kinase C (PKC)-independent MAPK pathway. Kinetic studies indicated a significant decrease in the transport capacity (V(max)) after PD169316 treatment of synaptosomes. Biotinylation studies showed reduced SERT proteins in the plasma membrane of synaptosomes after p38 MAPK inhibition and PKC activation. Phosphorylation studies using synaptosomes revealed decreased SERT phosphorylation by PD169316 but increased phosphorylation by beta-PMA. d-Amphetamine enhanced SERT basal phosphorylation and PD169316 blocked this effect. SERT interaction with protein phosphatase 2A catalytic subunit and syntaxin 1A decreased after PD169316 or beta-PMA treatment of synaptosomes. In synaptosomes, PKC activation but not p38 MAPK inhibition resulted in SERT redistribution from cholesterolrich lipid raft fractions to nonlipid raft fractions. The presence of phospho-p38 MAPK in synaptosomes and human embryonic kidney 293 (HEK-293) cells suggested the presence of constitutively active p38 MAPK in these preparations. Cotransfection of HEK-293 cells with SERT and a constitutively active form of MAP kinase kinase 3b(E) [MKK3b(E)] increased 5-HT transport, and RNA interference targeted to p38 MAPK inhibited 5-HT uptake, confirming the involvement of active p38 MAPK in SERT expression. Although PD169316 inhibited SERT insertion to the plasma membrane, beta-PMA increased SERT internalization in HEK-293 cells. Together, these results indicate a distinct role of p38 MAPK in SERT regulation.