Using electrophysiological and biochemical approaches, we investigated the effects of chronic, intermittent ethanol (CIE) treatment on activation of the mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK), also known as extracellular signal regulated protein kinase 1 and 2. In hippocampal slices taken from control rats, brief high-frequency stimulation to Schaffer collateral fibers induced a large post-tetanic potentiation (PTP) in the CA1 region that decayed to stable long-term potentiation (LTP) of field extracellular postsynaptic potentials. Western blot analyses showed that phosphorylation of MAPK was increased during PTP and returned to baseline levels during LTP. In slices from the rats removed immediately from CIE treatment, PTP and MAPK activation during the PTP was significantly less than that observed in control slices and LTP was absent. In slices from rats subjected to 1 day withdrawal from CIE treatment, both the reduction in MAPK phosphorylation during PTP and the impairment of PTP and LTP were still evident. Recovery of PTP and partial recovery of LTP was observed in slices obtained from 5-day withdrawn rats. However, MAPK activation during PTP was still attenuated significantly. Interestingly, MAPK activation was enhanced significantly during LTP in 5-day withdrawn rats as well as the sensitivity to MAPK inhibitor PD 098059. In addition to these changes in HFS-induced MAPK activation, we also observed a significant reduction in the basal phosphorylation of MAPK in slices removed from rats immediately after CIE treatment. These results implicate the MAPK signal transduction pathway as a potential cellular target of ethanol. Alterations in MAPKs could play an important role in the alcohol-induced changes in synaptic plasticity associated with the effects of alcohol abuse on learning and memory processes.