The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is constantly exposed to external injuries which lead to degeneration, dysfunction or loss of RPE cells. The balance between RPE cells death and proliferation may be responsible for several diseases of the underlying retina, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR). Signaling pathways able to control cells proliferation or death usually involve the MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinases) pathways, which modulate the activity of transcription factors by phosphorylation. UV exposure induces DNA breakdown and causes cellular damage through the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) leading to programmed cell death. In this study, human retinal pigment epithelial cells ARPE19 were exposed to 100 J/m(2) of UV-C and MAPK pathways were studied. We first showed the expression of the three major MAPK pathways. Then we showed that activator protein-1 (AP-1) was activated through phosphorylation of cJun and cFos, induced by JNK and p38, respectively. Specific inhibitors of both kinases decreased their respective activities and phosphorylation of their nuclear targets (cJun and cFos) and reduced UV-induced cell death. The use of specific kinases inhibitors may provide excellent tools to prevent RPE apoptosis specifically in RPE diseases involving ROS and other stress-related compounds such as in AMD.