Chronic sun exposure of the skin has long been postulated to enhance cutaneous angiogenesis, resulting in highly vascularized skin cancers. As the UVB component of sunlight is a major contributor to photocarcinogenesis, we aimed to explore the effects of UVB radiation on vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) gene expression, using the immortalized keratinocyte cell line HaCaT as a model for transformed premalignant epithelial cells. In the present paper, we studied the molecular mechanism of UVB-induced VEGF providing a major angiogenic activity in tumour progression and invasion. After 12-24 h of UVB irradiation, a 2.4- to 2.7-fold increase in endogenous VEGF protein level was measured, correlating with an up to 2.5-fold induction of promoter-based reporter gene constructs of VEGF. Furthermore, we identified a GC-rich UVB-responsive region between -87 and -65 bp of the VEGF promoter. In electrophoretic mobility-shift assays, this region binds Sp1-dependent protein complexes constitutively and an additional UVB-inducible protein complex distinct from Sp1 protein. The transcription factor AP-2 (activator protein-2) was detected as a component of the UVB-inducible protein complex. The critical role of the AP-2/Sp1 (specificity protein 1) cluster was supported by demonstration of a significant reduction of UVB-mediated promoter activity upon deletion of this recognition site. The specificity of this region for UVB irradiation was demonstrated using PMA, which increased VEGF activity in HaCaT cells after transient transfection of the deleted promoter construct. In conclusion, our data clarified regulatory mechanisms of UVB-dependent VEGF stimulation which may be critical for angiogenic processes in the skin.