Early inflammatory events include cytokine release, activation, and rapid accumulation of neutrophils, with subsequent recruitment of mononuclear cells. The p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) intracellular signaling pathway plays a central role in regulating a wide range of inflammatory responses in many different cells. A murine model of mild LPS- induced lung inflammation was developed to investigate the role of the p38 MAPK pathway in the initiation of pulmonary inflammation. A novel p38 MAPK inhibitor, M39, was used to determine the functional consequences of p38 MAPK activation. In vitro exposure to M39 inhibited p38 MAPK activity in LPS- stimulated murine and human neutrophils and macrophages, blocked TNF-α and macrophage inflammatory protein-2 (MIP-2) release, and eliminated migration of murine neutrophils toward the chemokines MIP-2 and KC. In contrast, alveolar macrophages required a 1000-fold greater concentration of M39 to block release of TNF-α and MIP-2. Systemic inhibition of p38 MAPK resulted in significant decreases in the release of TNF-α and neutrophil accumulation in the airspaces following intratracheal administration of LPS. Recovery of MIP-2 and KC from the airspaces was not affected by inhibition of p38 MAPK, and accumulation of mononuclear cells was not significantly reduced. When KC was instilled as a proinflammatory stimulus, neutrophil accumulation was significantly decreased by p38 MAPK inhibition independent of TNF-α or LPS. Together, these results demonstrate a much greater dependence on the p38 MAPK cascade in the neutrophil when compared with other leukocytes, and suggest a means of selectively studying and potentially modulating early inflammation in the lung.