Psoriasis is characterized by alterations in both the epidermis and dermis of the skin. Epidermal keratinocytes display marked proliferative activation and differentiate along an “alternate” or “regenerative” pathway, while the dermis becomes infiltrated with leukocytes, particularly interleukin 2 (IL-2) receptor-bearing "activated" T cells. Psoralens, administered by the oral route, have therapeutic effects in psoriasis when photochemically activated by ultraviolet A light (PUVA therapy). Recently psoralen bath therapy has been introduced to more effectively deliver this agent to the diseased skin. We have correlated the efficacy of PUVA bath therapy with its effects on specific molecular and cellular parameters of disease, in 10 consecutive patients with recalcitrant psoriasis. Rapid clearing of lesions occurred in 8 out of 10 patients. Biopsies were taken from lesional and nonlesional skin before and after a single round of therapy, and observation was continued in our Clinical Research Center at The Rockefeller University. Enumeration of cycling keratinocytes with the Ki-67 monoclonal antibody showed that PUVA reduced cell proliferation by 73%. The pathological increase in insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-1) receptors was reversed, whereas epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptors, which are also increased in psoriasis, remained unchanged. Keratinocyte proteins that are expressed in abnormal sites of the epidermis during psoriasis, i.e., keratin 16, filaggrin, and involucrin, were, after PUVA treatment, localized to their normal sites. Epidermal and dermal T-lymphocytes (CD3+), as well as CD4+, CD8+, and IL-2 receptor+ subsets, were strongly suppressed by PUVA, with virtual elimination of IL-2 receptor+ T cells in some patients. Consistent with diminished lymphocyte activation, HLADR expression by epidermal keratinocytes was markedly reduced in treated skin. In comparison to cyclosporine treatment of psoriasis, PUVA therapy leads to more complete reversal of pathological epidermal and lymphocytic activation, changes which we propose to be the cellular basis for a more sustained remission of disease after PUVA treatment.