It has been shown that mesothelioma expresses the antiapoptotic protein BCL-XL, but not BCL-2, rendering bcl-xl gene expression a potential therapeutic target. Sodium butyrate (NaB) is a histone deacetylase inhibitor capable of alteration of bcl-2 family protein expression in other tumor types. Mesothelioma cell lines (REN, I-45) were exposed to NaB, and viability (colorimetric assay) and apoptosis (TUNEL, Hoescht staining, flow cytometry) were evaluated. Effects on bcl-2 family protein, fas-fas ligand, and caspases were examined by Western blot analysis and functional assay. An RNase assay evaluated bcl-2 family messenger RNA (mRNA) expression. Overexpressing BCL-XL mesothelioma clones were created by plasmid transfer. Cells were sensitive to NaB at low IC(50) (REN, 0.3 mM; I-45, 1 mM) and demonstrated apoptosis (percentage of cells below G1 phase by flow cytometry [sub-G1]: REN, 38.5%; I-45, 30.9%). A significant decrease in BCL-XL protein expression was noted with BAK, BAX, and BCL-2 unchanged, and this was corroborated at the transcriptional level with selectively decreased bcl-xl mRNA production after sodium butyrate exposure. Fas expression and fas-fas ligand sensitivity were unchanged. Caspases demonstrated low-level activation. Stable overexpressing BCL-XL clones were proportionally resistant to the NaB effect. This study suggests that mesothelioma cells are sensitive to the induction of apoptosis related to the attenuation of antiapoptotic bcl-xl gene and protein expression. Additional study of the therapeutic benefit of targeting bcl-xl gene expression in mesothelioma is warranted.