It has been postulated that production of TNF-alpha is central to the pathogenesis of septic shock induced by group B Streptococcus (GBS). In vitro studies using human cord blood monocytes have demonstrated that GBS induces TNF-alpha secretion, but little is known about the intracellular signaling pathways of TNF-alpha induction. In this report we show that heat-killed serotype III GBS induces host cell signal transduction pathways that lead to activation of the transcription factors NF-kappaB and AP-1. Using adenoviral transfer of IkappaBalpha (IkappaBalpha overexpression), the production of TNF-alpha induced by whole GBS was inhibited by only 20%. We also show that the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway is involved in GBS-induced TNF-alpha secretion, because TNF-alpha protein and mRNA levels in the presence of a specific inhibitor of p38 MAPK, SB 202190, were dramatically diminished. EMSAs showed that SB 202190 inhibited GBS-induced AP-1 activation, but had no effect on NF-kappaB-DNA binding activity. These results indicate that both NF-kappaB and AP-1 (via p38 MAPK) are involved in the regulation of TNF-alpha production in GBS-stimulated neonatal monocytes. Therefore, disrupting the signal transduction pathways induced by GBS has the potential to attenuate the production of immune response mediators, thereby halting or possibly reversing the course of this potentially fatal disease.