Active cell death, also known as apoptosis, has been implicated in the pathophysiology of diseases such as cancer, heart failure and neurodegenerative disorders. We report the anti-apoptotic function of IRAS, which was previously shown to bind imidazoline ligands. The amino acid sequence of human IRAS (hIRAS) is unrelated to known proteins, except for rat IRAS and a mouse homologue named nischarin, which binds the alpha5 integrin subunit of the fibronectin receptor. When stably transfected into PC12 cells, hIRAS localizes to the cytosol as a 167 kDa immunoreactive protein. Clonal PC12 cell lines expressing hIRAS displayed normal serum growth responses. However, hIRAS expression led to prolonged cell survival against known apoptotic stimuli: serum starvation or thapsigargin or staurosporine treatments. The apoptotic population of hIRAS-expressing cells was significantly reduced, and this protection was achieved by a decrease in caspase-3 activity, phosphatidylserine translocation, and nuclear fragmentation. Similar protective effect was obtained in COS7 cells transiently transfected with hIRAS. A partial activation of the PI3 kinase pathway is possibly implicated in the anti-apoptotic effect of IRAS. Thus, IRAS appears to represent a previously unknown anti-apoptotic protein involved in the regulation of cell survival.