Ultraviolet (UV) B irradiation leads to a potent immunosuppression of the capacity to reject syngeneic, antigenic tumors. If this immunosuppression is critical for the development of most skin tumors, then its prevention should result in prevention of photocarcinogenesis. We previously showed a correlation between the inhibition of photoimmunosuppression and prevention of photocarcinogenesis by dl-alpha-tocopherol, tannic acid, or alpha-difluoromethylornithine. The current study was designed to determine whether topical nicotinamide, the active form of vitamin B-3, or niacin, prevents immunosuppression and skin cancer in UV-irradiated mice. In a passive transfer assay for immunosuppression, splenocytes from UV-irradiated mice enhanced the growth of antigenic tumor challenges in recipient mice. Treatment of the UV-irradiated mice with 40 mumol of nicotinamide twice weekly starting two weeks before UV irradiation and throughout the experiment prevented this immunosuppression. UVB irradiation consisted of five weekly 30-minute exposures to banks of six FS40 Westinghouse fluorescent sunlamps. Mice received approximately 6.2 x 10(5) J/m2 in the passive transfer assays and 1.09 x 10(6) J/m2 in the photocarcinogenesis studies. Application of nicotinamide to UV-irradiated mice reduced skin tumor incidence from 75% to 42.5% (p = 0.016, Cox proportional hazards analysis). Thus topical nicotinamide prevented the immunosuppression and skin tumor induction by UVB irradiation.