Anxiety disorders, depression and animal models of vulnerability to a depression-like syndrome have been associated with dysregulation of serotonergic systems in the brain. To evaluate the effects of early life experience, adverse experiences during adulthood, and potential interactions between these factors on serotonin transporter (slc6a4) mRNA expression, we investigated in rats the effects of maternal separation (180 min/day from days 2 to 14 of life; MS180), neonatal handing (15 min/day from days 2 to 14 of life; MS15), or normal animal facility rearing (AFR) control conditions with or without subsequent exposure to adult social defeat on slc6a4 mRNA expression in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DR) and caudal linear nucleus. At the level of specific subdivisions of the DR, there were no differences in slc6a4 mRNA expression between MS15 and AFR rats. Among rats exposed to a novel cage control condition, increased slc6a4 mRNA expression was observed in the dorsal part of the DR in MS180 rats, relative to AFR control rats. In contrast, MS180 rats exposed to social defeat as adults had increased slc6a4 mRNA expression throughout the DR compared to both MS15 and AFR controls. Social defeat increased slc6a4 mRNA expression, but only in MS180 rats and only in the "lateral wings" of the DR. Overall these data demonstrate that early life experience and stressful experience during adulthood interact to determine slc6a4 mRNA expression. These data support the hypothesis that early life experience and major stressful life events contribute to dysregulation of serotonergic systems in stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders.