One of the abiotic stress factors affecting plant metabolism is ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation. 5-Aminolevulinic acid (ALA), a key precursor of porphyrin biosynthesis, promotes plant growth and crop yields. To investigate the alleviating effects of exogenous ALA on the damages caused by UV-B exposure, two different concentrations [10 ppm (ALA1) and 25 ppm (ALA2)] of ALA were applied to lettuce seedlings for 24 h and then they were exposed to 3.3 W m(-2) UV-B. Results showed that UV-B treatment significantly decreased chlorophyll a and b (Chl a and b) concentration, enhanced the activity of antioxidant enzymes, total phenolic concentration, soluble sugar contents, expression of phenylalanine ammonia lyase (PAL) and c-tocopherol methyltransferase (gamma-TMT) genes, the concentration of malondialdehyde (MDA), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and the rate of superoxide radical (O-2(center dot-)) generation in the lettuce seedlings when compared to the control. Pre-treatment with exogenous ALA significantly enhanced UV-B stress tolerance in lettuce seedlings by decreasing the reactive oxygen species. On the other hand, ALA application caused more increases in the PAL and gamma-TMT gene expression, antioxidant enzymes activities, Chl a and b concentration, total phenolic content, antioxidant capacity and the concentrations of soluble sugars. Obtained results indicated that UV-B radiation exerts an adverse effect on lettuce seedlings, and some of the negative effects of UV-B radiation can be alleviated by exogenous ALA.