It has become clear that ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation from the solar spectrum is a major environmental challenge to the skin. This necessitates developing novel mechanism-based agents capable of ameliorating UVA-induced effects in the skin. We recently described a novel antioxidant, 3-O-Caffeoyl-1-methylquinic acid (MCGA3) from leaves of bamboo. Here, we investigated the photochemopreventive effects of MCGA3 against UVA-mediated apoptosis in immortalized HaCaT keratinocytes. Pretreatment of MCGA3 rendered cells more sensitive to subsequent UVA irradiation-induced apoptosis as well as completely reversed UVA-induced sustained phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 and protein kinase Cα, downregulation of p21, and reactive oxygen species generation. Interestingly, MCGA3 itself effectively induced p21 protein and mRNA levels. Silencing of p21 by RNA interference revealed a pivotal role of p21 in generating G1-S arrest and in enhancing UVA-mediated apoptosis. Transcriptional activation of p21 by MCGA3 was mediated through the proximal region of multiple Sp1 sites regardless of p53-binding site in p21 promoter, and this effect was augmented by desferroioxamine, an iron chelating agent. Additional studies suggested that iron chelation-driven hypoxia by MCGA3 may function in activation of p21. MCGA3 could be a useful agent to prevent photocarcinogenesis via apoptotic elimination of p53 mutant and DNA-repair defective cells caused by UVA radiation. © 2007 Nature Publishing Group All rights reserved.