Tissue transglutaminase is a unique member of the transglutaminase family as it not only catalyzes a transamidating reaction, but also binds and hydrolyzes GTP and ATP. Tissue transglutaminase has been reported to be pro-apoptotic, however, conclusive evidence is still lacking. To elucidate the role of tissue transglutaminase in the apoptotic process human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells were stably transfected with vector only (SH/pcDNA), wild-type tissue transglutaminase (SH/tTG) and tissue transglutaminase that has no transamidating activity but retains its other functions (SH/C277S). In these studies three different apoptotic stimuli were used osmotic stress, staurosporine treatment and heat shock to delineate the role of tissue transglutaminase as a transamidating enzyme in the apoptotic process. In SH/tTG cells, osmotic stress and staurosporine treatments resulted in significantly greater caspase-3 activation and apoptotic nuclear changes then in SH/pcDNA or SH/C277S cells. This potentiation of apoptosis in SH/tTG cells was concomitant with a significant increase in the in situ transamidating activity of tissue transglutaminase. However, in the heat shock paradigm, which did not result in any increase in the transamidating activity in SH/tTG cells, there was a significant attenuation of caspase-3 activity, LDH release and apoptotic chromatin condensation in SH/tTG and SH/C277S cells compared with SH/pcDNA cells. These findings indicate for the first time that the effect of tissue transglutaminase on the apoptotic process is highly dependent on the type of the stimuli and how the transamidating activity of the enzyme is affected. Tissue transglutaminase facilitates apoptosis in response to stressors that result in an increase in the transamidating activity of the enzyme. However, when the stressors do not result in an increase in the transamidating activity of tissue transglutaminase, than tissue transglutaminase can ameliorate the apoptotic response through a mechanism that is independent of its transamidating function. Further, neither the phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase pathway nor the extracellular-regulated kinase pathway is downstream of the modulatory effects of wild-type tissue transglutaminase or C277S-tissue transglutaminase in the apoptotic cascade.