Sunburn cells are thought to represent ultraviolet B-induced apoptotic keratinocytes. It has been demonstrated that enzymatic and nonenzymatic antioxidants effectively suppress sunburn cell formation, indicating that reactive oxygen species may play a role in the progression of ultraviolet B-induced apoptosis. Metallothionein, a cytosol protein, has antioxidant activity, and overexpression of metallothionein has been reported to reduce the number of sunburn cells in mouse skin. We have also demonstrated that overexpression of metallothionein inhibits ultraviolet B-induced DNA ladder formation in mouse keratinocytes. These findings support the hypothesis that cellular metallothionein may play an important role in the inhibition of ultraviolet B-induced apoptosis in keratinocytes through its antioxidant activity. In the present study, we investigated the effects of beta-thujaplicin, an extract from the woods of Thuja plicata D. Don. and Chamaecyparis obtuse, Sieb. et Zucc., on ultraviolet B-induced apoptosis in keratinocytes and on metallothionein induction. Topical application of beta-thujaplicin decreased the number of ultraviolet B-mediated sunburn cells and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT)-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end labeling-positive cells in mouse ear skin. Incubation with beta-thujaplicin suppressed ultraviolet B-induced DNA ladder formation in cultured mouse keratinocytes. Histochemical analysis showed that topical application of beta-thujaplicin induced metallothionein protein in mouse skin. Northern analysis and western blotting revealed significant induction of metallothionein mRNA and metallothionein protein, respectively, in beta-thujaplicin-treated cultured mouse keratinocytes. These findings indicate that beta-thujaplicin inhibits ultraviolet B-induced apoptosis in keratinocytes and strongly suggest that the inhibitory mechanism is due to the antioxidant activity of metallothionein induced by the agent.