Caspase-2 is one of the earliest identified caspases, but the mechanism of caspase-2-induced apoptosis remains unknown. We show here that caspase-2 engages the mitochondria-dependent apoptotic pathway by inducing the release of cytochrome c (Cyt c) and other mitochondrial apoptogenic factors into the cell cytoplasm. In support of these observations we found that Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL can block caspase-2- and CRADD (caspase and RIP adaptor with death domain)-induced cell death. Unlike caspase-8, which can process all known caspase zymogens directly, caspase-2 is completely inactive toward other caspase zymogens. However, like caspase-8, physiological levels of purified caspase-2 can cleave cytosolic Bid protein, which in turn can trigger the release of Cyt c from isolated mitochondria. Interestingly, caspase-2 can also induce directly the release of Cyt c, AIF (apoptosis-inducing factor), and Smac (second mitochondria-derived activator of caspases protein) from isolated mitochondria independent of Bid or other cytosolic factors. The caspase-2-released Cyt c is sufficient to activate the Apaf-caspase-9 apoptosome in vitro. In combination, our data suggest that caspase-2 is a direct effector of the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway.