Tyrosine hydroxylase (TOH) activity is regulated acutely by phosphorylation of serines 8, 19, 31 and 40. The only kinases known to phosphorylate Ser31 are the mitogen-activated protein kinases MAPK-1 and 2. The involvement of these kinases in TOH activation in situ was therefore investigated using intact bovine chromaffin cells. Nicotine, K+ and A23187 increased TOH activity over 10 min in a Ca2+-dependent manner. The response to all three was reduced by PD098059, a selective inhibitor of the upstream activator of MAPK, MEK1. In contrast, TOH activation by forskolin and phorbol dibutyrate were unaffected by PD098059. The results support a key role for MEK1/MAPK in the acute activation of TOH by nicotinic receptors and by other agonists that increase cytosolic Ca2+.