The serotonin transporter is a compelling candidate gene to examine in bipolar and unipolar affective disorder, since drugs that specifically inhibit the serotonin transporter can successfully treat depression. Previous association studies of a VNTR polymorphism in intron 2 and a functional insertion/deletion polymorphism in the promoter of this gene have produced conflicting results. The present study examined allele and genotype frequencies for both of these polymorphisms and resulting haplotypes in 87 English Caucasian bipolar patients, 125 English Caucasian unipolar affective disorder patients, and 174 controls. No significant associations were detected when these unipolar or bipolar cases were compared either separately or as a pooled "affective disorder" group to the controls. A meta-analysis of over 1,400 individuals of European Caucasian origin was then performed, comprising 772 controls, 375 bipolar and 299 unipolar patients for the VNTR polymorphism, and 739 controls, 392 bipolar and 275 unipolar patients for the promoter polymorphism. A significant association of promoter allele 2 was shown with bipolar (estimated odds ratio 1.21; 95% confidence interval 1.00-1.45), unipolar (OR 1.23; 95% CI 1.01-1.42), and combined bipolar + unipolar groups (OR 1.22; 95% CI 1.04-1.42). There was no demonstrable allelic association of the VNTR polymorphism with affective disorder: for the combined bipolar + unipolar group the odds ratios for VNTR alleles 9 and 10, compared with the common allele 12 were 1.05 (95% CI 0.56-1.95) and 0.90 (95% CI 0.77-1.05). These results suggest that the promoter allele 2, which has previously been shown to result in lower levels of serotonin transporter transcription, may be associated with affective disorder risk.