Maspin, a novel serine protease inhibitor (serpin), suppresses the growth and metastasis of breast tumor in vivo. However, the underlying molecular mechanism is unclear. In the current study, we report the first evidence that endogenous maspin expression in mammary carcinoma cells MDA-MB-435 enhanced staurosporine (STS)-induced apoptosis as judged by the increased fragmentation of DNA, increased proteolytic inactivation of poly-[ADP-ribose]-polymerase (PARP), as well as the increased activation of caspase-8 and caspase-3. In parallel, recombinant maspin did not directly regulate the proteolytic activities of either caspase-3 or caspase-8 in vitro. Consistent with this result, maspin expressing normal mammary epithelial cells underwent more rapid STS-induced apoptosis as compared to breast carcinoma cells. Interestingly, maspin transfectant cells did not undergo spontaneous apoptosis in the absence of STS. Moreover, neither purified maspin protein added from outside nor endogenous maspin secreted to the cell culture media sensitized cells to STS-induced apoptosis. To investigate the structural determinants of maspin in its apoptosis-sensitizing effect, MDA-MB-435 cells were also transfected with maspin/PAI-1 and PAI-1/maspin chimeric constructs resulting from swapping the N-terminal and the C-terminal domains between maspin and PAI-1 (plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1). The resulting stable transfectant clones expressing maspin/PAI-1 and PAI-1/maspin, respectively, did not undergo spontaneous apoptosis, and were similarly inhibited as maspin transfectant cells in motility assay. Interestingly, however, expression of both maspin/PAI-1 and PAI-1/maspin in MDA-MB-435 cells failed to sensitize these cells to STS-induced apoptosis. Taken together, our evidence provides new insights into the complex molecular mechanisms of maspin that may suppress breast tumor progression not only at the step of invasion and motility, but also by regulating tumor cell apoptosis. The sensitizing effect of maspin on apoptosis is to be contrasted by the pro-survival effect of several other serpins.