The p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathway is activated by numerous inflammatory mediators and environmental stresses. We assessed the effects of ultraviolet B (UVB) on the p38 MAPK pathway and determined whether cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 expression is downstream of this kinase in the skin of UVB-irradiated SKH-1 mice. SKH-1 mice were irradiated with a single dose of UVB (360 mJ per cm2), and activation of the epidermal p38 MAPK pathway was assessed. UVB-induced phosphorylation of p38 MAPK occurred in a time-dependent manner. Phosphorylation of MAPK-activated protein kinase-2 (MAPKAPK-2) also was detected and correlated with an increase in its kinase activity. Phosphorylation of heat shock protein 27 (HSP27), a substrate for MAPKAPK-2, also was detected post-irradiation. Oral administration of the p38 inhibitor, SB242235, prior to UVB irradiation, blocked activation of the p38 MAPK cascade, and abolished MAPKAPK-2 kinase activity and phosphorylation of HSP27. Moreover, SB242235 inhibited expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-6 and KC (murine IL-8) and COX-2. Our data demonstrate that UVB irradiation of murine skin activates epidermal p38 MAPK signaling and induces a local pro-inflammatory response. Blockade of the p38 MAPK pathway may offer an effective approach to reducing or preventing skin damage resulting from acute solar radiation. Copyright © 2005 by The Society for Investigative Dermatology, Inc.