Lens fiber cell differentiation involves extensive reconstruction of the cell's architecture, including the degradation and elimination of all membrane-bound organelles via a process that has been likened to apoptosis. Using caspase reporter assays under conditions in which nonspecific cleavage of the reporter peptides by the proteasome has been inhibited, we investigated whether any specific caspase activities are temporally correlated with this process of organelle loss. Extracts from neonatal mouse lenses contained strong VEID-7-amino-4-trifluoromethylcoumarin (AFC) and minor IETD-AFC and LEVD-AFC cleavage activities, but no DEVD-AFC cleavage activity. Further testing suggested that the VEID-AFC and IETD-AFC cleavage activities were likely due to the same enzyme. In lens extracts from rat embryos, VEID-AFC cleavage activity increased during the period when organelles are eliminated, between embryonic days 15.5 and 18.5, whereas procaspase-6 protein levels decreased, suggesting that this enzyme is responsible for VEID-AFC cleavage. By contrast, in extracts from alpha AE7 transgenic mouse lenses in which apoptosis was induced, strong DEVD-AFC cleavage activity and activated caspase-3 protein were detected. Thus, within the same tissue, different caspase activities can predominate depending on the context, normal differentiation versus apoptosis. These results highlight the difference between normal fiber cell differentiation and apoptosis and the capacity of the lens to differentially regulate these two processes.