Peroxynitrite-induced poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase activation has been implicated in the pathogenesis of various inflammatory conditions. Here we have investigated whether peroxynitrite and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase may play a role in the pathophysiology of the elicitation phase of contact hypersensitivity. We have detected nitrotyrosine, DNA breakage, and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase activation in the epidermis of mice in an oxazolone-induced contact hypersensitivity model. As tyrosine nitration is mostly mediated by peroxynitrite, a nitric-oxide-derived cytotoxic oxidant capable of causing DNA breakage, we have applied peroxynitrite directly on mouse skin and showed poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase activation in keratinocytes and in some scattered dermal cells. We have also investigated the cellular effects of peroxynitrite in HaCaT cells, a human keratinocyte cell line. We found that peroxynitrite inhibited cell proliferation and at higher concentrations also caused cytotoxicity. Peroxynitrite activates poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase in HaCaT cells and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase activation contributes to peroxynitrite-induced cytotoxicity, as indicated by the cytoprotective effect of the poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitor 3-aminobenzamide. The cytoprotective effect of 3-aminobenzamide cannot be attributed to inhibition of apoptosis, as apoptotic parameters (caspase activation and DNA fragmentation) were not reduced in the presence of 3-aminobenzamide in peroxynitrite-treated cells. Moreover, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibition by 3-aminobenzamide dose-dependently reduced interferon-induced intercellular adhesion molecule 1 expression as well as interleukin-1beta-induced interleukin-8 expression. Our results indicate that peroxynitrite and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase regulate keratinocyte function and death in contact hypersensitivity.