Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) has long been implicated in regulation of mood. Medications that block the neuronal 5-HT transporter (SERT) are used as major pharmacological treatment for mood disorders. Conversely, stimuli that enhance SERT activity might be predicted to diminish synaptic 5-HT availability and increase the risk for 5-HT-related CNS disorders. We have shown that the inflammatory cytokines enhance brain SERT activity in cultured serotonergic cells and nerve terminal preparations in vitro. In this study, we establish that intraperitoneal injection of the cytokine-inducer lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulates brain SERT activity, acting at doses below those required to induce overt motor suppression. SERT stimulation by LPS is paralleled by increased immobility in both the tail suspension test (TST) and the forced swim test (FST); antidepressant-sensitive alterations are thought to model aspects of behavioral despair. Both the stimulation of SERT activity and induced immobility are absent when LPS is administered to interleukin-1 receptor (IL-1R)-deficient mice and in the presence of SB203580, an inhibitor of IL-1R-stimulated p38 MAPK. Moreover, the ability of LPS to enhance immobility in TST is lost in SERT knockout mice. These findings reveal an ability of peripheral inflammatory stimuli to enhance brain SERT activity through IL-1R and p38 MAPK pathways in vivo and identify a requirement for SERT expression in immune-system-modulated despair behaviors. Our studies identify IL-1R- and p38 MAPK-dependent regulation of SERT as one of the mechanisms by which environmentally driven immune system activation can trigger despair-like behavior in an animal model, encouraging future analysis of the pathway for risk factors in neuropsychiatric disorders.