In response to genotoxic stress, cell cycle progression can be arrested at certain checkpoints which serve to maintain genomic integrity. We have investigated the mechanism of ultraviolet B (UVB) irradiation-induced cell cycle arrest in normal human keratinocytes and in the HaCaT keratinocyte cell line which carries mutant p53 tumour suppressor protein. While only normal keratinocytes showed a delay in G1 following sublethal UVB irradiation both cell types exhibited prolonged G2 arrest attributable to rapid inhibition of cyclin B-associated cdc2 kinase activity. This inhibition coincided with increased tyrosine phosphorylation of cdc2 and was reversed by the cdc25C phosphatase in vitro. The data indicate that UVB-induced G2 arrest in mammalian cells is mediated by inhibitory tyrosine phosphorylation of cdc2 and acts as a defense mechanism against DNA damage irrespective of the cells' p53 status.