Hyperplasia of pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells (PA-SMCs) is a hallmark pathological feature of primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH). Here we found that PA-SMCs from patients with PPH grow faster than PA-SMCs from controls when stimulated by serotonin or serum and that these effects are due to increased expression of the serotonin transporter (5-HTT), which mediates internalization of indoleamine. In the presence of 5-HTT inhibitors, the growth stimulatory effects of serum and serotonin were markedly reduced and the difference between growth of PA-SMCs from patients and controls was no longer observed. As compared with controls, the expression of 5-HTT was increased in cultured PA-SMCs as well as in platelets and lungs from patients with PPH where it predominated in the media of thickened pulmonary arteries and in onion-bulb lesions. The L-allelic variant of the 5HTT gene promoter, which is associated with 5-HTT overexpression and increased PA-SMC growth, was present in homozygous form in 65% of patients but in only 27% of controls. We conclude that 5-HTT activity plays a key role in the pathogenesis of PA-SMC proliferation in PPH and that a 5HTT polymorphism confers susceptibility to PPH.