We examined the effects of 5-Gy radiation on the expression of hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) and the radiosensitivity of five human oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) cell lines (SAS, Ca9-22, TT, BSC-OF and IS-FOM). In all of the cell lines, HIF-1α was expressed in mRNA, and radiation had no influence on gene transcription. The number of apoptotic cells increased 72 h after irradiation in cell lines SAS, Ca9-22 and TT cells, indicating low transcriptional levels of HIF-1α, and the levels of non-cleaved caspase-3, an executioner of apoptosis, and non-cleaved poly (adenosine diphosphate-ribose) polymerase (PARP), a marker of DNA damage early in apoptosis, decreased simultaneously. Conversely, radiation failed to induce apoptosis or to decrease expression of non-cleaved caspase-3 and PARP in cell lines BSC-OF and IS-FOM cells that expressed high levels of HIF-1α. BSC-OF and IS-FOM cells exhibited high migratory capacity. When CoCl(2) was present in the medium, HIF-1α expression increased along with the survival of Ca9-22 cells after radiation exposure. These results suggest that OSCC cells expressing high levels of HIF-1α are resistant to radiation. HIF-1α can be used to control the short-term radiosensitivity of cells.