The interaction of macrophages with infectious agents leads to the activation of several signaling cascades, including mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases, such as p38. We now demonstrate that p38 MAP kinase-mediated responses are critical components to the immune response to Borrelia burgdorferi. The pharmacological and genetic inhibition of p38 MAP kinase activity during infection with the spirochete results in increased carditis. In transgenic mice that express a dominant negative form of p38 MAP kinase specifically in macrophages, production of the invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cell-attracting chemokine MCP-1 and of the antigen-presenting molecule CD1d are significantly reduced. The expression of the transgene therefore results in the deficient infiltration of iNKT cells, their decreased activation, and a diminished production of interferon ? (IFN-?), leading to increased bacterial burdens and inflammation. These results show that p38 MAP kinase provides critical checkpoints for the protective immune response to the spirochete during infection of the heart.