p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) belongs to the MAPK superfamily, phosphorylating serine and/or threonine residues of the target proteins. The activation of p38 MAPK leads to cell growth, differentiation, inflammation, survival or apoptosis. In this study, we tested the effect of two highly specific and potent inhibitors of p38 MAPK (namely, SB203580 and SB202190) on human breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231 to elucidate the controversial role of p38 MAPK on cell proliferation and/or cell migration/metastasis further. It was determined that the IC50 value of SB203580 was 85.1 mu M, while that of SB202190 was 46.6 mu M, suggesting that SB202190 is slightly more effective than SB203580. To verify the effect of each inhibitor on cell proliferation and cytotoxicity, the cells were treated with various doses of SB203580 and SB202190 and examined using iCELLigence system. No significant effect of 1 and 5 mu M of both inhibitors were seen on cell proliferation as compared to the DMSO-treated control cells for up to 96 h. On the other hand, both SB203580 and SB202190 significantly prevented cell proliferation at a concentration of 50 mu M. SB202190 was again more effective than SB203580. Afterwards, we tested the effect of each inhibitor on cell migration using wound assay. Both SB203580 and SB202190 significantly reduced cell migration in a time-dependent manner at a concentration of 50 mu M. However, interestingly it was observed that a low and noncytotoxic dose of 5 mu M of SB203580 and SB202190 also did cause significant cell migration inhibition at 48 h of the treatment, corroborating the fact that p38 MAPK pathway has a critical role in cell migration/metastasis. Then, we tested whether each p38 MAPK inhibitor has any effect on cell adhesion during a treatment period of 3 h using iCELLigence system. A concentration of only 50 mu M of SB202190 reduced cell adhesion for about 1.5 h (p < 0.001); after that period of time, cell adhesion in 50 mu M SB202190-treated cells returned to the level of the control cells. To determine the mechanism of growth and cell migration inhibitory effects of p38 MAPK inhibitors, the activation/inactivation of various proteins and enzymes was subsequently analyzed by PathScan (R) Intracellular Signaling Array kit. The ERK1/2 phosphorylation level was not modified by low concentrations (1 or 5 mu M) of SB202190 and SB203580; while a high concentration (50 mu M) of both inhibitors caused significant reductions in the ERK1/2 phosphorylation. In addition, it was determined that both p38 MAPK inhibitors caused significant increases on the Ser15 phosphorylation of mutant p53 in MDA-MB-231 under these experimental conditions; while SB202190 was more potent than SB203580.