Low doses (100 J/m2) of ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from sunlamp fluorescent FS20 tubes inhibit the ability of freshly isolated murine epidermal Langerhans cells (LC) to support anti-CD3 MoAb-induced T-cell mitogenesis and selectively inhibit the upregulation of ICAM-1 expression by LC without causing appreciable cytotoxicity in short-term (<- 24 h) incubations (J Immunol 146:3347-3355, 1991). In the present study, epidermal cells (EC) were exposed to UVB radiation or were sham-irradiated and cultured for 24, 48, or 72 h when LC were recovered, enumerated, and assayed for simultaneous expression of I-A antigens and ICAM-1 by flow cytometry. UVB-irradiated LC that had been cultured for 24 h exhibited levels of I-A antigens comparable to those on unirradiated LC but expressed substantially less ICAM-1. After 48 and 72 h, cultured UVB-irradiated LC expressed somewhat lower levels of I-A antigens and markedly less ICAM-1 than unirradiated controls. Although similar numbers of LC were recovered from cultures initiated with UVB-irradiated and unirradiated epidermal cells after 24 h, far fewer identifiable LC were recovered from cultures seeded with irradiated cells at 48 and 72 h (∼ 50 and ∼ 10% of control, respectively). The effect of UVB radiation on the survival of LC in vitro was not reversible with exogenous TNFα (125 U/ml) alone or granulocyte/macrophage colony stimulating factor (5 ng/ml) and IL-1 (50 U/ml) in combination, although these cytokines had modest effects on the expression of I-A antigens and ICAM-1 by cultured UVB-irradiated LC. Results of survival studies performed with enriched LC preparations demonstrated that UVB radiation was clearly cytotoxic for LC and did not merely downregulate surface expression of I-A antigens or alter LC buoyant density. Exposure of LC to radiation from blacklight fluorescent (UVA) tubes (0.25 J/cm2) in the presence of 8-methoxypsoralen (1 μg/ml; PUVA) or monochromatic UVC radiation (20 J/m2) also inhibited LC accessory cell function. Results of survival studies performed with EC that had been exposed to PUVA or UVC radiation before culture were similar to those of studies performed with UVB-irradiated cells, although PUVA- and UVC-induced LC cytotoxicity was much more pronounced 48 h after culture initiation than UVB-induced cytotoxicity. UVA radiation alone augmented LC recovery at 24 and 48 h, but did not influence I-A antigen or ICAM-1 expression. The results of these experiments indicate that levels of UV radiation (UVB, UVC, or psoralen + UVA radiation) that inhibit LC accessory cell function and selectively modulate ICAM-1 expression in short-term (≤ 24 h) cultures are ultimately cytotoxic for LC.