Apoptosis is an important cellular response to UV radiation (UVR), but the corresponding mechanisms remain largely unknown. Here we report that the p85α regulatory subunit of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI-3K) exerted a proapoptotic role in response to UVR through the induction of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) gene expression. This special effect of p85α was unrelated to the PI-3K-dependent signaling pathway. Further evidence demonstrated that the inducible transcription factor NFAT3 was the major downstream target of p85α for the mediation of UVR-induced apoptosis and TNF-α gene transcription. p85α regulated UVR-induced NFAT3 activation by modulation of its nuclear translocation and DNA binding and the relevant transcriptional activities. Gel shift assays and site-directed mutagenesis allowed the identification of two regions in the TNF-α gene promoter that served as the NFAT3 recognition sequences. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays further confirmed that the recruitment of NFAT3 to the endogenous TNF-α promoter was regulated by p85α upon UVR exposure. Finally, the knockdown of the NFAT3 level by its specific small interfering RNA decreased UVR-induced TNF-α gene transcription and cell apoptosis. The knockdown of endogenous p85α blocked NFAT activity and TNF-α gene transcription, as well as cell apoptosis. Thus, we demonstrated p85α-associated but PI-3K-independent cell death in response to UVR and identified a novel p85α/NFAT3/TNF-α signaling pathway for the mediation of cellular apoptotic responses under certain stress conditions such as UVR.