The effects of UVB irradiation on transcription factor activator protein-1 (AP-1) DNA binding and AP-1 transactivation were studied in a human keratinocyte cell line, HaCaT. UVB-induced AP-1 binding to a consensus AP-1 binding site was observed by gel shift assays with maximum stimulation at 12 h after UVB irradiation. A promoter region of the human collagenase-1 gene containing the same AP-1 binding sequence linked to a luciferase reporter gene was stably transfected into HaCaT cells. UVB irradiation significantly increased luciferase activity in these stably transfected cells, with maximum activity observed at 24 h after UVB irradiation. c-Fos and Jun D were identified by antibody clearing assays as the main components of the bound AP-1 complexes. Inhibition of transcription with actinomycin D and inhibition of protein synthesis with cycloheximide significantly abrogated the effect of UVB on AP-1 DNA binding, indicating that transcription and translation were required for AP-1 activation. Northern and Western analyses revealed a correlation between increased AP-1 activity and accumulation of c-fos mRNA and c-Fos protein after UVB irradiation. UVB irradiation increased c-fos transcription in HaCaT cells stably transfected with a plasmid containing the human c-fos promoter driving a luciferase reporter gene. These results suggest that increased c-fos expression may play an important role in UVB- induced AP-1 activation in HaCaT cells.