Ultraviolet A (UVA; 320-400 nm) radiation in human skin fibroblasts induces a pattern of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation consisting of a rapid and transient induction of p38 and c-Jun-N-terminal kinase (JNK) activity but not extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK). UVA activation of p38 can be inhibited by the singlet oxygen (1O2) quenchers azide and imidazole, but not by the hydroxyl radical scavengers mannitol or dimethylsulfoxide, pointing to the involvement of 1O2. The same effect has been shown for JNK. Like UVA, 1O2 generated intracellularly upon photoexcitation of Rose Bengal activates p38 and JNK but not ERK. p38 and JNK activation was also elicited by chemiexcitation for the intracellular generation of 1O2 by the lipophilic 1,4-endoperoxide of N,N'-di(2,3-dihydroxypropyl)-1, 4-naphthalene dipropionamide. In contrast, extracellular generation of 1O2, by irradiation of Rose Bengal immobilized on agarose beads or by chemiexcitation employing the hydrophilic 1,4-endoperoxide of disodium 3,3'-(1,4-naphthylidene) dipropionate, was ineffective in activating p38 or JNK. These data suggest that the activation of p38 and JNK by 1O2 occurs only when the electronically excited molecule is generated intracellularly.