The effect of a single irradiation with UV light on the expression of Ki67 antigen, topoisomerase II alpha, proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), the melanocyte activation marker HMB-45 and protein p53 in melanocytic naevi was investigated 1 week after application of a single erythemagenic UV dose and after daily exposures with suberythemagenic doses over 4-6 weeks. To assess the effect of UV irradiation, one half of each naevus was shielded with black tape during the UV exposure, and the irradiated part and the non-irradiated parts were evaluated separately. Except for HMB-45, a double staining procedure was performed to distinguish between labelled melanocytes and keratinocytes. After semiquantitative assessment of the staining signal the irradiated part was compared with the non-irradiated part of the same naevus. Morphological changes and an enhanced proliferative/ reparative activity in melanocytes were much more frequent in the naevi irradiated with a single erythemagenic UV dose than in those given repeated suberythemagenic doses. In addition, the keratinocytes showed an increased labelling for PCNA and p53 after the single irradiation. These data may support the importance of intermittent UV exposure and sunburns in the development of both benign and malignant melanocytic lesions.