In eukaryotic cells, both soluble transport factors and components of the nuclear pore complex mediate protein and RNA trafficking between the nucleus and the cytoplasm. Here, we investigated whether caspases, the major execution system in apoptosis, target the nuclear pore or components of the nuclear transport machinery. Four nucleoporins, Nup153, RanBP2, Nup214 and Tpr are cleaved by caspases during apoptosis. In contrast, the nuclear transport factors, Ran, importin alpha and importin beta are not proteolytically processed, but redistribute across the nuclear envelope independently and prior to caspase activation. Also, mRNA accumulates into the nucleus before caspases become active. Microinjection experiments further revealed that early in apoptosis, the nucleus becomes permeable to dextran molecules of 70 kD molecular weight. Redistribution of import factors and mRNA, as well as nuclear permeabilisation, occur prior to caspase-mediated nucleoporin cleavage. Our findings suggest that the apoptotic programme includes modifications in the machinery responsible for nucleocytoplasmic transport, which are independent from caspase-mediated degradation of nuclear proteins.