Many chemotherapeutic agents induce mitochondrial-membrane disruption to initiate apoptosis. However, the upstream events leading to drug-induced mitochondrial perturbation have remained poorly defined. We have used a variety of physiological and pharmacological inhibitors of distinct apoptotic pathways to analyze the manner by which suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA), a chemotherapeutic agent and histone deacetylase inhibitor, induces cell death. We demonstrate that SAHA initiates cell death by inducing mitochondria-mediated death pathways characterized by cytochrome c release and the production of reactive oxygen species, and does not require the activation of key caspases such as caspase-8 or -3. We provide evidence that mitochondrial disruption is achieved by means of the cleavage of the BH3-only proapoptotic Bcl-2 family member Bid. SAHA-induced Bid cleavage was not blocked by caspase inhibitors or the overexpression of Bcl-2 but did require the transcriptional regulatory activity of SAHA. These data provide evidence of a mechanism of cell death mediated by transcriptional events that result in the cleavage of Bid, disruption of the mitochondrial membrane, and production of reactive oxygen species to induce cell death.