In lymphocytes, an asymmetric distribution of phospholipids across the plasma membrane is maintained by an ATP-dependent translocase which specifically transports aminophospholipids from the outer to the inner leaflet of the bilayer. During apoptosis, this enzyme is down-regulated and a lipid flipsite, termed the scramblase, is activated. Together, these events lead to the appearance of phosphatidylserine (PS) on the cell surface. In DO11.10 T lymphocyte hybridoma cells undergoing apoptosis, the kinetics of PS externalization are paralleled by the development of PS-sensitive phagocytosis by macrophages. This parallel is also observed when PS externalization is effected directly by application of a Ca2+ ionophore, suggesting that PS externalization is not only necessary, but sufficient, to generate a recognition signal. The broad spectrum aspartate-directed cysteine protease (caspase) inhibitor zVAD-fmk blocks externalization of PS and terminal cell lysis after induction of apoptosis by anti-CD3 antibody, but is ineffective when apoptosis is induced in the same cells by treatment with glucocorticoid. These results suggest that apoptosis induced by glucocorticoid does not require the same zVAD-sensitive caspase steps which are required for Fas/FasL-dependent death induced by anti-CD3 antibody, and that the action of these proteases is also not required for PS externalization. Extracellular Ca2+ is required to complete the later stages of apoptosis in DO11.10 cells, and its removal restores normal transport of PS, suggesting that down-regulation of the aminophospholipid translocase and up-regulation of the scramblase are not effected by irreversible protease cleavage.