In cultured cerebrocortical neurons, mild excitotoxic insults or staurosporine result in apoptosis. We show here that N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-mediated, but not staurosporine-mediated, apoptosis is preceded by depolarization of the mitochondrial membrane potential (Deltapsi(m)) and ATP loss. Both insults, however, release cytochrome c (Cyt c) into the cytoplasm. What prompts mitochondria to release Cyt c and the mechanism of release are as yet unknown. We examined the effect of inhibition of the adenine nucleotide translocator (ANT), a putative component of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore. Inhibition of the mitochondrial ANT with bongkrekic acid (BA) prevented NMDA receptor-mediated apoptosis of cerebrocortical neurons. Concomitantly, BA prevented Deltapsi(m) depolarization, promoted recovery of cellular ATP content, and blocked caspase-3 activation. However, in the presence of BA, Cyt c was still released. Because BA prevented NMDA-induced caspase-3 activation and apoptosis, the presence of Cyt c in the neuronal cytoplasm is not sufficient for the induction of caspase activity or apoptosis. In contrast to these findings, BA was ineffective in preventing staurosporine-induced activation of caspases or apoptosis. Additionally, staurosporine-induced, but not NMDA-induced, apoptosis was associated with activation of caspase-8. These results indicate that, in cerebrocortical cultures, excessive NMDA receptor activation precipitates neuronal apoptosis by means of mitochondrial dysfunction, whereas staurosporine utilizes a distinct pathway.