The phototoxicity of each waveband region of UV radiation (UVR), i.e., UVA (320-400 nm), UVB (290-320 nm) and UVC (200-290 nm), was correlated with an apoptotic mechanism using equilethal doses (10% survival) on murine lymphoma L5178Y-R cells. Apoptosis was qualitatively monitored for DNA "ladder" formation (multiples of 200 base pair units) using agarose gel electrophoresis, while the percentages of apoptotic and membrane-permeabilized cells were quantified over a postexposure time course using flow cytometry. The UVA1 radiation (340-400 nm) induced both an immediate (< 4 h) and a delayed (> 20 h) apoptotic mechanism, while UVB or UVC radiation induced only the delayed mechanism. The role of membrane damage was examined using a lipophilic free-radical scavenger, vitamin E. Immediate apoptosis and membrane permeability increased in a UVA1 dose-dependent manner, both of which were reduced by vitamin E. However, vitamin E had little effect on UVR-induced delayed apoptosis. In contrast, the DNA damaging agents 2,4- and 2,6-diaminotoluene exclusively induced delayed apoptosis. Thus, immediate apoptosis can be initiated by UVA1-induced membrane damage, while delayed apoptosis can be initiated by DNA damage. Moreover, the results suggest that immediate and delayed apoptosis are two independent mechanisms that exist beyond the realm of photobiology.