Apoptotic cell death is an essential process in the development of the central nervous system and in the pathogenesis of its degenerative diseases. Efflux of K(+) and Cl(-) ions leads to the shrinkage of the apoptotic cell and facilitates the activation of caspases. Here, we present electrophysiological and immunocytochemical evidences for the activation of a voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC) in the plasma membrane of neurons undergoing apoptosis. Anti-VDAC antibodies blocked the channel and inhibited the apoptotic process. In nonapoptotic cells, plasma membrane VDAC1 protein can function as a NADH (-ferricyanide) reductase. Opening of VDAC channels in apoptotic cells was associated with an increase in this activity, which was partly blocked by VDAC antibodies. Hence, it appears that there might be a dual role for this protein in the plasma membrane: (1) maintenance of redox homeostasis in normal cells and (2) promotion of anion efflux in apoptotic cells.