The abundant nuclear enzyme poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) synthesizes poly(ADP-ribose) in response to DNA strand breaks. During almost all forms of apoptosis, PARP is cleaved by caspases, suggesting the crucial role of its inactivation. A few studies have also reported a stimulation of PARP during apoptosis. However, the role of PARP stimulation and cleavage during this cell death process remains poorly understood. Here, we measured the stimulation of endogenous poly(ADP-ribose) synthesis during VP-16-induced apoptosis in HL60 cells and found that PARP was cleaved by caspases at the time of its poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation. In vitro experiments showed that PARP cleavage by caspase-7, but not by caspase-3, was stimulated by its automodification by long and branched poly(ADP-ribose). Consistently, caspase-7 exhibited an affinity for poly(ADP-ribose), whereas caspase-3 did not. In addition, caspase-7 was activated and accumulated in the nucleus of HL60 cells in response to the VP-16 treatment. Furthermore, caspase-7 activation was concommitant with PARP cleavage in the caspase-3-deficient cell line MCF-7 in response to staurosporine treatment. These results strongly suggest that, in vivo, it is caspase-7 that is responsible for PARP cleavage and that poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation of PARP accelerates its proteolysis. Cleavage of the active form of caspase substrates could be a general feature of the apoptotic process, ensuring the rapid inactivation of stress signaling proteins.