The platinum compound oxaliplatin has been shown to be an effective chemotherapeutic agent for the treatment of colorectal cancer. In this study, we investigate the molecular mechanisms of action of oxaliplatin to identify means of predicting response to this agent. Exposure of colon cancer cells to oxaliplatin resulted in G2/M arrest and apoptosis. Immunofluorescent staining demonstrated that the apoptotic cascade initiated by oxaliplatin is characterised by translocation of Bax to the mitochondria and cytochrome c release into the cytosol. Oxaliplatin treatment resulted in caspase 3 activation and oxaliplatin-induced apoptosis was abrogated by inhibition of caspase activity with z-VAD-fmk, but was independent of Fas/FasL association. Targeted inactivation of Bax or p53 in HCT116 cells resulted in significantly increased resistance to oxaliplatin. However, the mutational status of p53 was unable to predict response to oxaliplatin in a panel of 30 different colorectal cancer cell lines. In contrast, the expression profile of these 30 cell lines, assessed using a 9216-sequence cDNA microarray, successfully predicted the apoptotic response to oxaliplatin. A leave-one-out cross-validation approach was used to demonstrate a significant correlation between experimentally observed and expression profile predicted apoptosis in response to clinically achievable doses of oxaliplatin (R=0.53; P=0.002). In addition, these microarray experiments identified several genes involved in control of apoptosis and DNA damage repair that were significantly correlated with response to oxaliplatin.