Multiple myeloma (MM) is a neoplastic proliferation of plasma cells and remains an incurable disease because of the development of drug resistance. Histone deacytylase (HDAC) inhibitors are a new class of chemotherapeutic reagents that cause growth arrest and apoptosis of neoplastic cells. Depsipeptide, a new member of the HDAC inhibitors, was found to be safe in humans and has been shown to induce apoptosis in various cancers. In order to evaluate the effects of depsipeptide, a MM cell line, U266 [interleukin (IL)-6 dependent], was analysed for viability and apoptosis. The combined effect of depsipeptide with melphalan and changes in BCL-2 family proteins (BCL-2, BCL-XL, BAX and MCL-1) were also investigated. In addition, the RPMI 8226 cell line (IL-6 independent), and primary patient myeloma cells were also analysed for apoptosis after depsipeptide treatment. Depsipeptide induced apoptosis in both U266 and RPMI 8226 cell lines in a time- and dose-dependent fashion, and in primary patient myeloma cells. We also demonstrated that depsipeptide had an additive effect with melphalan (10 micromol/l). BCL-2, BCL-XL and MCL-1 showed decreased expression in depsipeptide-treated samples. Based on recent clinical trials demonstrating minimal clinical toxicity, our study supports the future clinical utilization of depsipeptide in the management of MM.