Chlamydia pneumoniae is an obligate intracellular bacterium which frequently causes airway infection in humans and has been implicated in atherosclerosis. Here we show that infection with C. pneumoniae protects HeLa human epithelioid cells against apoptosis induced by external stimuli. In infected HeLa cells, apoptosis induced by staurosporine and CD95-death-receptor signaling was strongly reduced. Upon treatment with staurosporine, generation of effector caspase activity, processing of caspase-3 and caspase-9 and cytochrome c redistribution were all profoundly inhibited in cells infected with C. pneumoniae. Bacterial protein synthesis during early infection was required for this inhibition. Furthermore, cytochrome c-induced processing and activation of caspases were inhibited in cytosolic extracts from infected cells, suggesting that a C. pneumoniae-dependent antiapoptotic factor was generated in the cytosol upon infection. Infection with C. pneumoniae failed to induce significant NF-kappaB activation in HeLa cells, indicating that no NF-kappaB-dependent cellular factors were involved in the protection against apoptosis. These results show that C. pneumoniae is capable of interfering with the host cell's apoptotic apparatus at probably at least two steps in signal transduction and might explain the propensity of these bacteria to cause chronic infections in humans.