We studied the modulating effect of protein tyrosine kinase inhibitors on the response of cells of the human chronic myelogenous leukemia cell line K562 to radiation. The radiosensitivity of the cells was increased by treatment with herbimycin A and decreased by treatment with genistein. This modulating effect of protein tyrosine kinase inhibitors on radiation sensitivity was associated with the alteration of the mode of radiation-induced cell death. After X irradiation, the cells arrested in the G(2) phase of the cell cycle, but these TP53(-/-) cells were unable to sustain cell cycle arrest. This G(2)-phase checkpoint deficit caused cell death. The morphological pattern of cell death was characterized by swelling of the cytoplasmic compartments, cytosolic vacuolation, disruption of the plasma membrane, less evident nuclear condensation, and faint DNA fragmentation, all of which were consistent with oncosis or cytoplasmic apoptosis. The nonreceptor protein tyrosine kinase inhibitor herbimycin A accelerated the induction of typical apoptosis by X irradiation, which was demonstrated by morphological assessments using nuclear staining and electron microscopy as well as oligonucleosomal fragmentation and caspase 3 activity. Herbimycin A is known to be a selective antagonist of the BCR/ABL kinase of Philadelphia chromosome-positive K562 cells; this kinase blocks the induction of apoptosis after X irradiation. Our results showed that the inhibition of protein tyrosine kinase by herbimycin A enhanced radiation-induced apoptosis in K562 cells. This effect was associated with the activation of caspase 3 and rapid abrogation of the G(2)-phase checkpoint with progression out of G(2) into G(1) phase. In contrast, the receptor-type protein tyrosine kinase inhibitor genistein protected K562 cells from all types of radiation-induced cell death through the inhibition of caspase 3 activity and prolonged maintenance of G(2)-phase arrest. Further investigations using this model may give valuable information about the mechanisms of radiation-induced apoptosis and about the radiosensitivity and radioresistance of chronic myelogenous leukemia cells having the Philadelphia chromosome.