Activation of pro-caspase-3 is a central event in the execution phase of apoptosis and appears to serve as the convergence point of different apoptotic signaling pathways. Recently, mitochondria were found to play a central role in apoptosis through release of cytochrome c and activation of caspases. Moreover, a sub-population of pro-caspase-3 has been found to be localized to this organelle. In the present study, we demonstrate that pro-caspase-3 is present in the mitochondrial fraction of Jurkat T cells in a complex with the chaperone proteins Hsp60 and Hsp10. Induction of apoptosis with staurosporine led to the activation of mitochondrial pro-caspase-3 and its dissociation from the Hsps which were released from mitochondria. The release of Hsps occurred simultaneously with the release of other mitochondrial intermembrane space proteins including cytochrome c and adenylate kinase, prior to a loss of mitochondrial transmembrane potential. In in vitro systems, recombinant Hsp60 and Hsp10 accelerated the activation of pro-caspase-3 by cytochrome c and dATP in an ATP-dependent manner, consistent with their function as chaperones. This finding suggests that the release of mitochondrial Hsps may also accelerate caspase activation in the cytoplasm of intact cells.