The release of chromosomal DNA into culture media has been reported for several naturally transformable bacterial species, but a direct link between competence development and the liberation of DNA is generally lacking. Based on the analysis of strains with mutations in competence-regulatory genes and the use of conditions favouring or preventing competence, we provide evidence that DNA release is triggered by the induction of competence in Streptococcus pneumoniae. Kinetic analyses revealed that whereas competence was maximal 20 min after addition of competence-stimulating peptide, and then decreased, the amount of liberated DNA continued to increase and reached a maximum in stationary phase, when cells are no longer competent for DNA uptake. These data are not consistent with the proposal that release of DNA by a fraction of the population is coordinated with uptake by the remainder. Moreover, we observed that an unidentified DNase was specifically induced or released in competent cultures, and that together with the major pneumococcal endonuclease, EndA, it could degrade released DNA. Nearby complete abolition of release in a mutant lacking both the major autolysin, LytA, and the autolytic lysozyme, LytC, indicated that DNA liberation occurs by LytA-LytC-dependent cell lysis. These observations suggest that competence-dependent DNA release is one facet of a more general phenomenon of sensitization to autolysis that reaches its maximum in stationary phase.