The proto-oncogene product Bcl-2 protects a wide variety of cell types from apoptosis via a hitherto unknown mechanism. Bcl-2 has been shown to function upstream of the death proteases (caspases) in some, but not all, occurrences of apoptotic cell death. Using the myeloid leukemic cell line P39 we report the chemotherapy-induced caspase-dependent cleavage of endogenous Bcl-2. Etoposide treatment of these cells triggered a time-dependent activation of type II and type III caspases and cleavage of Bcl-2 yielding a 23 kDa cleavage fragment. The emergence of this cleavage product was blocked by the general caspase inhibitor zVAD-fmk, as well as the type III caspase inhibitor IETD-fmk and the caspase-9-selective inhibitor LEHD-fmk, while the type II caspase inhibitor DEVD-fmk proved considerably less efficient. Bcl-2 cleavage preceded cleavage of the known caspase-3 substrate, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP), as well as that of the caspase-6 substrate, lamin B, indicating that Bcl-2 cleavage is a relatively early event in the apoptosis cascade in this experimental model. While evidence for cleavage of Bcl-2 in several subcellular compartments of etoposide-treated cells was obtained, this cleavage was detected predominantly in the mitochondrial fraction, thus providing further support for the central role of mitochondria in apoptosis. Caspase-mediated cleavage following etoposide treatment of these myeloid leukemic cells may represent a means for the attenuation of Bcl-2 function upon apoptosis induction.