Interaction between p38MAPK and p42/44MAPK in rat pinealocytes was examined by determining the effects of p38MAPK inhibitors on the phosphorylation of p42/44MAPK using Western blot analysis. Treatment with SB202190, a specific inhibitor of p38MAPK, increased p42/44MAPK phosphorylation in a concentration-dependent manner. SB202190 also enhanced the magnitude and the duration of norepinephrine-activated p42/44MAPK phosphorylation. The effect of SB202190 on p42/44MAPK phosphorylation was abolished by PD98059 or UO126, inhibitors of MEK, suggesting that SB202190 is acting upstream of MEK in activating p42/44MAPK. The SB202190-induced phosphorylation of p42/44MAPK was not blocked by inhibitors of cGMP-dependent kinase (KT5823), protein kinase C (calphostin C) or Ca2+/calmodulin dependent kinase (KN93) suggesting that these pathways may not be involved in the effect of SB202190. SB202190 further increased p42/44MAPK phosphorylation that was stimulated by 8-bromo-cGMP, 4beta phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate, or ionomycin. In contrast, inhibition of p42/44MAPK phosphorylation by dibutyryl-cAMP persisted when p42/44MAPK phosphorylation was increased by SB202190. Furthermore, inhibition of p42/44MAPK phosphorylation had no effect on p38MAPK activation. These results suggest that inhibition of p38MAPK causes activation of p42/44MAPK and acts synergistically with norepinephrine in the regulation of p42/44MAPK activation in rat pinealocytes.