Early heart failure is characterized by elevated plasma Dendroaspis natriuretic peptide-like immunoreactivity (DNP-LI). However, the direct effects of DNP on heart or the heart-associated cell system are not well known. Therefore, we investigated whether DNP induces the apoptosis of H9c2 cardiac muscle cells. H9c2 cardiac muscle cells and rat neonatal cardiomyocytes were treated with various concentrations of DNP. Cell viability and nuclear morphology change were determined by trypan blue staining and Hoechst 33258 staining, respectively. Caspase-3-like activity was measured using specific fluorogenic substrates. Pro-and antiapoptotic proteins were assayed by Western blotting. DNP induced the apoptosis of H9c2 cardiac muscle cells in a dose-dependent manner. Maximum effects occurred at 100 nM concentration of DNP, with a 7-8-fold increase in apoptotic cells, to reach a maximum apoptotic index of 17%. We also identified that H9c2 cardiac muscle cells expressed Natriuretic peptide reactor -A and -B, which respond to DNP to generate cGMP. The treatment with DNP also markedly reduced levels of Bcl-2, inhibitor of apoptosis protein-1, and inhibitor of apoptosis protein-2 and increased the level of Bax and cytochrome c release into cytoplasm and subsequent caspase-3 activation, which co-occurred with increased apoptosis. DNP-induced apoptosis was mediated by cyclic GMP, and this effect was mimicked by dibutylyl-cGMP (30 microM), a membrane permeable analog of cGMP. Furthermore, DNP-induced apoptosis was observed in rat neonatal cardiomyocytes. These results suggest that DNP induces the apoptosis of H9c2 cardiac muscle cells and of cardiomyocytes via cGMP and demonstrate that the operative mechanism includes the regulation of Bcl-2 family proteins.