Recent evidence has revealed the occurrence of an apoptotic phenotype in Saccharomyces cerevisiae that is inducible with oxidative stress. Here, exposure of S. cerevisiae to 20-200 mM acetic acid for 200 min at pH 3.0 resulted in cell death. Yeast mortality induced by 120-200 mM acid was not inhibited by cycloheximide and was accompanied by ultrastructural alterations typical of necrosis. In contrast, alterations associated with cell death induced by 20-80 mM acetic acid included: (i) cycloheximide-inhibitable chromatin condensation along the nuclear envelope; (ii) exposure of phosphatidylserine on the surface of the cytoplasmic membrane, revealed by the FITC-annexin V reaction; and (iii) the occurrence of DNA strand breaks, demonstrated by the TUNEL assay. These results show that a programmed cell death process sharing common features with an apoptotic phenotype can be induced by acetic acid in S. cerevisiae. This observation raises the possibility of this mode of cell death being more generalized in yeasts than previously considered and extended to cell death induced by other stress agents.