To determine the apoptotic signaling pathway which tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL/Apo2L) induced, we investigated the contribution of reactive oxygen species (ROS), p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase and caspases in human adenocarcinoma HeLa cells. Here we show that upon TRAIL/Apo2L exposure there was pronounced ROS accumulation and activation of p38 MAP kinase, and that activation of caspases and apoptosis followed. Pretreatment with antioxidants such as glutathione or estrogen attenuated TRAIL/Apo2L-induced apoptosis through a reduction of ROS generation and diminished p38 MAP kinase and caspase activation. The p38 MAP kinase inhibitor SB203580 prevented apoptosis through a blockage of caspase activation, although ROS generation was not attenuated. Furthermore, the pan-caspase inhibitor Z-Val-Ala-DL-Asp-fluoromethyl ketone fully prevented apoptosis, while neither ROS accumulation nor p38 MAP kinase activation were affected. Therefore, our results suggest that TRAIL/Apo2L-induced apoptosis is mediated by ROS-activated p38 MAP kinase followed by caspase activation in HeLa cells.