Chronic exposure to UV radiation (UVR), especially in the UVA (315-400 nm) and UVB (280-315 nm) spectrum of sunlight, is the major risk factor for the development of nonmelanoma skin cancer. UVR is a complete carcinogen, which both initiates and promotes carcinogenesis. We found that protein kinase C epsilon (PKCepsilon), a member of the phospholipid-dependent threonine/serine kinase family, is an endogenous photosensitizer, the overexpression of which in the epidermis increases the susceptibility of mice to UVR-induced cutaneous damage and development of squamous cell carcinoma. The PKCepsilon transgenic mouse (FVB/N) lines 224 and 215 overexpressed 8- and 18-fold PKCepsilon protein, respectively, over endogenous levels in basal epidermal cells. UVR exposure (1 kJ/m(2) three times weekly) induced irreparable skin damage in high PKCepsilon-overexpressing mouse line 215. However, the PKCepsilon transgenic mouse line 224, when exposed to UVR (2 kJ/m(2) three times weekly), exhibited minimum cutaneous damage but increased squamous cell carcinoma multiplicity by 3-fold and decreased tumor latency by 12 weeks. UVR exposure of PKCepsilon transgenic mice compared with wild-type littermates (1) elevated the levels of neither cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer nor pyrimidine (6-4) pyrimidone dimer, (2) reduced the appearance of sunburn cells, (3) induced extensive hyperplasia and increased the levels of mouse skin tumor promoter marker ornithine decarboxylase, and (4) elevated the levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) and other growth stimulatory cytokines, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, and granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor. The role of TNFalpha in UVR-induced cutaneous damage was evaluated using PKCepsilon transgenic mice deficient in TNFalpha. UVR treatment three times weekly for 13 weeks at 2 kJ/m(2) induced severe cutaneous damage in PKCepsilon transgenic mice (line 215), which was partially prevented in PKCepsilon-transgenic TNFalpha-knockout mice. Taken together, the results indicate that PKCepsilon signals UVR-induced TNFalpha release that is linked, at least in part, to the photosensitivity of PKCepsilon transgenic mice.